All Walter Hollander wanted was a relaxing vacation. Give him a cabana on Atlantic Beach and a pinochle game and he would be happy. But his wife had other ideas and the family ended up overseas in Europe, only to end their vacation trapped in the United States Embassy in Russia – during the height of the Cold War - due to a minor misunderstanding.
And they might never make it home to New Jersey again.
Not if their fate is in the hands of Axel McGee, the son of a senator left in charge of the embassy.
They might as well get comfortable.
Thus begins the farcical antics of the Woody Allen play, Don't Drink the Water, presented by Synergy Ensemble Theatre Company in their last show of the season.
Almost 50 years since its premiere on Broadway, the humor holds up well in this production, directed by J. Timothy Conlon. But it doesn't always pack the punch it should due to sluggish pacing and some missed cues. Call it first-night jitters but this cast as a whole seemed to ease into their roles as the show went on before settling into a fine routine.
The cast is impressively led by Bryan Mayer as Axel McGee, a son who started out on top and quickly worked his way down to the mailroom. Mayer indulges in McGee's frantic side, almost bubbling over with nervousness and anxiousness, and an intense amount of positivity. Spending almost all of the show's running time on stage, Mayer creates a character that you want to simultaneously pat on the head like a puppy, and also lock far, far away from all humans. Even when Mayer's timing was a bit off, it still worked. His character was used to spinning stories and being over the top ridiculous.
Most enjoyable were scenes involving Steven C. Fallis as Walter and Caroline McCurdy as his wife, Marion (who was never without her purse, even in pajamas). The two had the love and hate relationship of a couple who had "survived" quite a few years of marriage together, and their exchanges highlighted the strongest writing of the play. Fallis and McCurdy, while bringing a lighter side to their predicament, also brought an authentic one… parents concerned for their younger child at home, a protective father of his daughter, and just the general feeling of crazy when you're with the one you love (and sort of want to strangle).
Physical comedy also reigned when applicable during Don't Drink. Notably so with Len Klein as Burns, whose shtick of walking slowly even in the most dire of situations never grew old, even as Klein kept with the character past curtain call. Scenes between Axel and Walter's daughter, Susan (Rita Wallace), as well as with Father Drobney (Vin Esposito) and Marion were also highlights.
Pay special attention to some of the cast members who are pulling double duty. Most memorably, Marco Chiriboga who makes quite the scene as the Embassy's Chef. Think the Muppets' Swedish Chef (minus the lobsters) -- wild hand gestures and thick accent -- with well-done facial expressions and much humor.
Ironically, this play full of playfulness, a bit of romance, and misinterpretations gone awry, still feels strangely present day, even with a picture of Lyndon B. Johnson sitting centerstage on a well-done set. Synergy Theatre does a delightful job of playing up the comedy with a group of actors who display strong camaraderie and trust for one another.
Photo by Marco Chiriboga featuring Bryan Mayer and Larry Bellman.
The Synergy Theatre (located in Islip, Long Island) will present Don't Drink the Water for one more weekend: April 27-28 at 8pm and April 29th at 2pm. For more information, please visit their website and their Facebook page.