SummerStage's 'Water' has some flow to it

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

June 19, 2014


WAUKESHA - SummerStage in the Town of Delafield opened its 2014 theatrical summer series with Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” one of the famous writer’s early stage plays, which was later converted into a film starring Jackie Gleason as the crotchety New Jersey caterer.

Set in the Cold War era, a family of American tourists, suspected of being spies, takes refuge in the American embassy which, at the moment, is being run by Ambassador Magee’s inept son Axel, who has succeeded up to now only at being a failure.  His competent aide Kilroy’s efficient style makes Axel look even less proficient. James Boylan and Doug Smedbron provide an interesting contrast in these two roles.

The Hollander family consists of Walter, a reluctant tourist who owns a catering service; Marion, his nagging wife; and their daughter Susan, who is engaged to a lawyer whom her father likes better than she does. During their long stay in the embassy, Susan becomes attracted to Axel, which proves to be his only success to date. Ralph Frattura and Tiersa Ferraro’s constant bickering is well done as the unhappy couple trying unsuccessfully to cope with their temporary entrapment.

Along the way we also meet Father Drobney, a Catholic priest, who has a very small following in Russia, so has resorted to living in hiding in the embassy and now spends much of his time perfecting his magic tricks. He occasionally speaks directly to the audience. Ralph Garcia provides us some amusement with his antics as the unemployed priest.

The play is a bit dated, some of the humor doesn’t work that well, but the pace picks up in Act II. There are protests, a bomb thrown through the window, a visit from a foreign dignitary and an escape plan devised by the creative Father Drobney. Action reigns. On the lighter side, Axel and Susan’s attraction continues to grow, despite Walter’s vehement objections. Caitlin Dolan did her best with her role as Susan, a character which was not very fully developed by Allen.

Not the best offering to date, it does serve up some laughs via Allen’s perspective on the more frivolous side of the Cold War. I can easily envision Woody himself playing the part of the hapless Axel, a quality that James Boylan somewhat captures. Only Woody Allen could find some humor in being trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Fran Klumb did a good job in her role as the frustrated chef. Other minor roles were executed by Carl Liden (Krojack), Jim Mallmann (Mr. Burns) and  Al Borsari and Diane Kallas in multiple small roles.

The set by A. J. Simon served the action well, the transitional music included some of the big hits of the 1960s, and the costumes, designed by Sharon Sohner, reminded us of some of the fashions of that era.

It was directed by Brian Zelinski.