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Review: Cast and script make for lots of laughs in Stage West production of 'Don't Drink the Water'

Dave Stenger, Jennifer Bryant and Jim Hansen star in Don’t Drink the Water as Chef, Susan Hollander and Father Drobney. The Woody Allen farce ends its run Sunday at the Forum at Stage West in Spring Hill.

Courtesy of Carol Ballard

Dave Stenger, Jennifer Bryant and Jim Hansen star in Don’t Drink the Water as Chef, Susan Hollander and Father Drobney. The Woody Allen farce ends its run Sunday at the Forum at Stage West in Spring Hill.

If you go see the Stage West Community Playhouse production of the 1966 Woody Allen farce Don't Drink the Water, prepare for some fun chuckles and a few good belly laughs.

It's the tale of the hapless Hollander family's vacation-gone-wrong as they visit an unnamed country in Europe, and Russian police mistake them for U.S. spies. They flee to the U.S. Embassy for safety and, through sheer bumbling, end up making things worse, both for themselves and for the embassy.

It's chock-a-block with Allen one-liners, lots of physical humor and zany characters, nicely done by Stage West veteran actors, including Dalton Benson as Walter (he won a HAMI for that role a decade ago) and Lynda Dilts-Benson as his wife, Marion.

Although someone — director? licensing company? — tried to update the show with current cultural references — Donald Trump, Glenn Beck, a portrait of President Barack Obama on the wall — the action obviously takes place during the 1960s Cold War and involves the conflict between Russia and the United States and the problems with the Iron Curtain (it fell in 1991) and besieged U.S. embassies, which we may be on the brink of having again (see Syria, Iran, etc.) but don't have yet.

The update isn't really necessary (though Trump's name did get a good laugh), since embassy refugee Father Drobney (a likable Jim Hansen, whose thick Slavic accent is consistent throughout the show) narrates the action and explains what is going on. Besides, most of the Stage West audience members were around during the Cold War and are familiar with its goings-on.

That said, the show itself is quite amusing, thanks to fine performances by director Rick Krasowski's cast and Allen's joke-packed script. Benson does great physical comedy, and he doesn't mind using his considerable girth to get well-deserved laughs, as he pantomimes bravado as a John Wayne-wannabe gunslinger, struggles to retrieve a dropped gun or dons outlandish disguises. And he fully inhabits Walter as the quintessential loudmouthed American tourist, whining that the family should have gone to Atlantic Beach instead.

He's matched by Dilts-Benson, as the air-brained Marion Hollander, who uses her time as an embassy fugitive to repeatedly wax the floors and tidy up around the place a bit. Dilts-Benson is fearless with physical humor, taking pratfalls to a whole new level, as she wrestles Father Drobney to the floor, her derriere poked high into the air as the powerful Sultan of Bashir (Richard Fogg) and his First Wife (Sherry Fogg) saunter into the room.

Stephen Hoda is convincing as the cute, lovable goof-up Axel Magee, son of Ambassador Magee (Allen Magnus). Though he is supposedly a diplomat in training, thanks to his dad's influence, Axel has been expelled from more American embassies than most people can name due to his rampant incompetence. Shortly before the Hollanders arrive, Dad puts Axel in charge to go off politicking, and, of course, he goofs up again. But he does fall for the Hollanders' daughter, Susan (a cute Jennifer Bryant), never mind that she's engaged to a powerful, rich lawyer back home.

The challenge is to get the Hollanders back to New Jersey before Walter's business partner completely wrecks their catering company. That means getting past the eagle eyes of Russian Detective Krojack (an impeccable Sam Petricone), his soldiers and a mob of dynamite-tossing protesters outside the embassy.

Eileen Bernard's costumes set the time precisely in the 1960s (note the hip-belted chemise dress and side-draped formals) as do Sheilah Roberts' props. The show runs 2½ hours, which can get tiresome and feel repetitive. But blame that on playwright Allen, not the cast and crew. Comic schticks like embassy employee Ms. Kilroy's (Cheryl Roberts) addled ode to Orville and Wilbur Wright interrupt the flow of the story but provide a nice opportunity for irrelevant giggles.

Fans of Allen and broad comedy will likely get a kick out of the whole thing.

>>fast facts

Don't Drink the Water

Don't Drink the Water, a comedy set in the 1960s, runs through Sunday at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Shows are at 7:30 p.m., except Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $15, reserved seating. Call (352) 683-5113.

Review: Cast and script make for lots of laughs in Stage West production of 'Don't Drink the Water' 10/12/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 4:52pm]
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