Ugly Americans

Don't Drink the Water

Written by Woody Allen

Directed by Maurie Samuels and Elliot Thomson

At the Dunster House Dining Hall

THE Dunster House production of Don't Drink the Water is a lackluster, superficial interpretation of an outdated Woody Allen play. Neither the play nor the performances are of the quality one might expect from Woody Allen or from Dunster House.


Don't Drink the Water is set in an American embassy somewhere behind the Iron Curtain. Ambassador Magee (John Wesson) has returned to the United States, and has left his son Axel (Josh Preven) in charge of the embassy during his leave. Unfortunately, Axel is a bumbling idiot who is everywhere followed by plagues of locusts and who has a tendency to wrap his lunch in peace treaties.

The fun is suposed to begin when the Hollander family, American tourists who have innocently been taking pictures of Communist missile sites, is chased into the Embassy by Communist police. Mr. Hollander (Orion Ross) is outraged that the Communists have taken "an innocent caterer" from Newark, New Jersey captive; his wife (Sara Melson) spends her time running up the embassy phone bill with constant calls to friends back home; and his daughter (Eliza Rosenbluth) predictably falls in love with the hapless Axel.

With American-Soviet relations as friendly as they are now, a play whose premise rests on stereotypical presentations of Communism and Communists does not come across as particularly topical. It is perhaps for this reason that directors Elliot Thomson and Maurie, Samuels decided to develop Don't Drink the Water as a slapstick comedy.

UNFORTUNATELY, this approach only hurts the play. Woody Allen doesn't write broad physical comedies, and he can't be performed like the Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy, though this seems to be the Dunster House approach. Physical humor, which might play well in the background, is brought to center stage, detracting from the play itself. The audience is treated to such extended vignettes as Axel struggling with Scotch tape and the embassy priest struggling to free himself from a Houdiniesque magic trick. These antics are funny by themselves, but are not anywhere near enough to carry an entire play.

Don't Drink the Water might be much funnier if it were presented as a character-based comedy, though such comedy requires a degree of character development that the Dunster House cast seems unable to deliver. Still, Don't Drink the Water does have a few acting highlights. Andrew Osborne makes a wonderful Sultan, though his stay on stage is unfortunately brief. Wesson obviously received extensive training at the George C. Scott Acting School to perfect his gruff portrayal of Ambassador Magee. And Suzanne Rose gives a diverting performance as the embassy chef, though her accent seems to waver somewhere between Italian, French and Venezuelan.

Of course, the funniest things about the play are the portraits of George Bush and Dan Quayle on the embassy wall. But that kind of comedy can only be born of the American people, and isn't the kind of thing that can be blamed either on Woody Allen or on the disappointing Dunster House performance of Don't Drink the Water.