By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week
(Published Feb. 9, 2007, 9:08 a.m.)
What: Whitewater Players performance of "Don't Drink the Water."
Where: Whitewater High School
When: Feb. 15-17, 7:30 p.m.
Info: Advance reserved seat tickets are $5 and under and can be purchased by calling 472-8178. Box office hours are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:15-5:15 at the high school.
High school students today don't know where the bomb shelters are, because there aren't any. And when the word Russian is spoken, it's usually associated with a sport.
But that matters little when finding the humor in "Don't Drink the Water," a play written by Woody Allen and set in the1960s in Russia.
The hilarious farce is set during the Cold War and revolves around a family of American tourists, Walter Hollander, his wife and their daughter.
The family is accused of spying after accidentally taking photos outside a secret military installation and seek asylum in an American Embassy behind the Iron Curtain.
A cast of off-the-wall characters is highlighted inside the embassy including the bumbling son of the ambassador, a priest who's been in asylum at the embassy for so long he's taken up performing unsuccessful magic tricks, an emotionally unstable French chef who overreacts to everything and a Middle Eastern emir, with whom Mr. Hollander nearly starts an international incident.
The historical content isn't as big of a challenge for today's students to relate to as one may think.
"We found we didn't have to draw as much on history to get the students to understand the fear and paranoia that permeated our country during the post Cuban Missile Crisis/Cold War era," said Anne and Lane Kuske, directors.
"Instead, we were able to draw parallels between that time and our current situation in which international terrorism has brought some of the same anxiety of a pending doom.
"Fortunately, thanks to Woody Allen's wit and mastery at creating eccentric characters, what could be a dark subject is presented in a hilarious way."
"'Don't Drink the Water' is much more like a Neil Simon comedy with its rapid-fire dialogue," Lane said.
It's a laugh a minute, adds Anne. And while that makes it fun for the cast and audiences, it also makes it a huge challenge for young actors.
Despite the level of difficulty, the Whitewater Players are having fun perfecting the show, which opens Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
"Rehearsing can get challenging sometimes, but when I think about how we are all working hard on something great, it's really not that bad," said Amber Wiest, who portrays Kilroy.
"This is definitely my favorite play I've worked on so far. It's a great balance of comedy and suspense. I still find myself laughing at lines in the script backstage."
This is the second time "Don't Drink the Water" was selected by the Kuskes because of its extreme humor and ability to challenge the students.
"We originally did 'Water' nine years ago and it was a huge success," says Lane.
"Without (the Kuskes) my experience at Whitewater High School would be nothing," Wiest, who has worked with them for seven years says. "They really make the shows excellent. (They) have opened my eyes to a whole new world of theater."
While someone may picture other slow, intense scripts written by Allen, "Don't Drink the Water" is not like that at all.
"It's very unlike the Woody Allen works with which modern audiences are familiar," Lane said. "Few people know his first successful scripts were written for the stage back in the '60s.
"If you didn't know this comedy was written by Allen, you'd never guess it was his because there is very little similarity to the slower, character-study scripts for which he's become famous."
Woody Allen is a three-time Academy Award winning director, writer, actor, and comedian. He's best known for his film work, including such hits as "Annie Hall," "Manhattan," "The Purple Rose of Cairo," "Match Point" and "Hannah and Her Sisters." Allen's characters often lean toward the neurotic, thanks to his many years in psychotherapy.
"Don't Drink the Water," runs Feb. 15-17 at 7:30 p.m. Advance reserved seat tickets are $5 and under and can be purchased by calling 472-8178. Box office hours are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3:15-5:15 at the high school.
Father Drobney-Jake Cortes
Ambassador Magee-Beth Ide
Axel Magee-Bill Engelhardt
Walter: Adam Taylor
Chef-Lindsay Van Norman
Sultan's Wives-Roxanne MacDonald and Bailey Alexander
Party Guests-Kristyn Kachel and Shannon Haneyooo
Kathleen Weston-student director stage manager
Sarah Paul-stage construction and crew
Jeremy Harmon-stage construction and crew
Ryan Perkins-sound control
Brian Halbach-light control
Nora Nosek-box office manager
Anne and Lane Kuske-directors