‘Water’ retains its retro humor
Written by: Ruby Nancy
Woody Allen’s comedy, “Don’t Drink the Water,” is an old enough script that it is from at least what some people say is “back when he (Allen, that is) was funny.”
Whether Allen’s work has ever been funny is certainly debatable, at least to some minds, but you don’t have to be a fan of his collective works to have some fun at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre’s production of this Cold War-era comedy. Forget for a minute that it is written by this particular guy, and even those of you who are “not a fan” will find charm in this cute little play.
Yes, there is the signature “loveable loser” character at the center of the disasters he causes, and the setting a U.S. embassy somewhere behind the Iron Curtain is where you might expect an old political thriller to be set, but the comic situations created here are a pleasant mix of farce and wit. The talented, lively Craig Merriman stars as Axel Magee, the hapless son of an American ambassador, and Merriman does great work as the adorable, if useless even sometimes (accidentally) dangerous young man, whose foreign service career would have already been over if his mother had not offered him a job.
When his mater familas leaves him in charge of the embassy while she is away, Axel has the chance to prove, once and for all, what he can do. And that’s exactly what he does.
A family of American tourists, briefly mistaken for spies because they were taking pictures of what turned out to be a military installation, seeks refuge in the embassy. Thanks to Axel’s unparalleled diplomacy skills, what could have been as simple as turning over a roll a film turns into a major international incident. As a result, the embassy and the tourist family spend the better part of two weeks leading up to a big party planned for a sultan with whom the ambassador has plans for major political and business deals under siege, complete with rioters and bombs. Who couldn’t make comedy of this mess?
Axel’s mother is the no-nonsense, politically ambitious Ambassador Magee, and Sandee Cunningham (last seen as the frenetic, baseball-crazed Sister in “Damn Yankees”) turns in a hard-edged cameo here that proves she can do more than play wacky. Other fine players who contribute much are the always-fabulous Nicole Horton and (appropriately) grandstanding Patrick Stinson, who prove major scene-stealers as the dysfunctional tourists who brought their young (only 23) daughter along on an “educational” vacation to Europe.
Katherine Walker Hill is warm and entertaining as that daughter, Susan, and Jack Braden does very nice work as Father Drobney, a radicalized priest and wanna-be magician who’s been holed up in the embassy for seven years practicing sleight of hand tricks. Chris Amos is believably scary as a mean-mugging KGB tough, and a number of other diverse characters pop up throughout the play.
A fine set, complete with a large framed photo of Richard Nixon and a pair of deeply set staircases, provide the perfect backdrop for this cute show, which is plenty of fun.