Decades of measured, often comedic exploration of upper-class New York city life obscured Woody Allen’s crazed origins. His early work, like Bananas and Sleeper, were loaded with madcap action, traditional slapstick, and modern-day farce. The same can be said of his first play, Don’t Drink the Water.
Here, chaos erupts in an Eastern Bloc country during the height of the Cold War when some American visitors take pictures they shouldn’t have. The only one who can save them? The inept son of the ambassador, put in charge of the embassy for the day.
Theatre in the Round tackles this early work under the direction of Benjamin Kutschied. The veteran director took some time to answer a few questions about the production via email.
[jump] How did you get involved in directing the show?
Benjamin Kutschied: I've been involved with TRP since 2004, but this will be my first directing position. I wasn't supposed to start directing here until The House of Blue Leaves in April of 2016, but they asked me to take over this show after losing a director from out of town. I had to drop a show at a different theater a few months before receiving this offer, so I suppose it was karma.
How familiar were you with the original play/movie when you started, and how much did you look at previous versions for inspiration?
I was familiar with the 1967 film starring Jackie Gleason, but I didn't know about the 1994 made for TV movie with Woody Allen and Michael J. Fox until recently. Both movies, while perfectly enjoyable, were rather tame. Neither provided much inspiration for this production. Instead, I was influenced by more outrageous and zany Cold War comedies like Dr. Strangelove and One, Two, Three.
With the Cold War very much in the past, how do you connect the play with modern audiences?
A world where Americans have enemies on the other side of the globe isn't unfamiliar, and the plot really has very little to do with the Cold War. It's a comedy about a well-intentioned, but phenomenally inept man who is put into a position that he is not equipped to handle. Almost all of the humor will play to a modern audience, even if an occasional joke about Dean Rusk or Edsels goes over the heads of some younger folks.
What's been the most challenging part of the production?
The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is getting the pacing just right. There are a lot of complicated floor patterns, overlapping entrances and exits, and sections with quick dialogue. The play needs to clip along at a breakneck pace in order to capture lightening in a bottle the way a good piece of slapstick or farce can.
What about the cast? What were you looking for when you looked at actors for the show?
BK: Above all, I was looking for a group of extremely funny people who would embrace the over-the-top nature of the characters. For example, I felt that the play's antagonist, Krojack, needed to have a presence that matched the absurdity of the lines Allen wrote for him. Charles Numrich has created a villain who is both hilarious and fit for a James Bond movie. This is an extremely talented cast, and every single character is an absolute hoot.
IF YOU GO:
Don’t Drink the Water
Friday through July 26
Theatre in the Round
245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-333-3010 or visit online.