Go Ahead! DRINK THE WATER at Forge!

by Kelly Thunstrom

Bev Smith, Bob Goretski, Abbie Cichowski and Randy Knox in a scene from Forge Theatre's production of DON'T DRINK THE WATER, running in Phoenixville PA through January 28.

Whenever one goes on vacation to a foreign country, someone they know will probably tell them DON’T DRINK THE WATER. Woody Allen’s rollicking play, written well before the Annie Hall days and running for 598 performances on Broadway, is a zany comedy about three American tourists. Unfortunately for them, but great for the audience, they get into a bit…ok, a lot…of trouble behind the European Iron Curtain.

Ambassador Magee (Jeff Ball) is taken from the American Embassy on business and needs someone to be “in charge” while he’s gone. His son, Axel (A.S. Freeman) wants to prove himself in a world where he continues to feel like a failure. He begs his dad to choose him as his replacement over the Ambassador’s assistant, Kilroy (Melanie Magolan). Of course, the minute his dad leaves, Axel’s hijinks take over, with the three “vacationers”, including “normal” daughter Susan (Abbie Cichowski), being taken for spies by Krojak (Gary Bullock). The tourists are forced to live in the Embassy until things smooth over, cohabitating with the “priest upstairs”, Father Drobney (Bob Goretski), and the none-too-pleased Chef (Brian Schwartz). With this being an Embassy, normal business must continue to be taken care of. This means the tourists will have dealings with important people, including the Sultan of Bashir (Anthony Marsala), his wife (Danielle E. Greenberg), Countess Bordoni (Denise Wisneski), and Kasnar (Ed Wisneski).

After seeing DON’T DRINK THE WATER, I cannot fathom two funnier or more perfect actors to play the husband and wife tourist team. Randy Knox, as Walter Hollander, and Bev Smith, as Marion, play off each other remarkably well. Their timing, nuances, and facial expressions are impeccable, even when the play turns rather slapstick. Knox plays his Walter to be very Archie Bunker-like in his voice and interacts effortlessly with the audience in the first row. Knox and Smith have decades on stage and their experience in these two very demanding parts truly shows.

The other standout was the always reliable Bob Goretski as Father Drobney. The priest is basically the narrator of the show, speaking directly to the audience at the beginning, intermission (where he kicked an audience member out of their seat to have some “wall time” and spoke directly from the front row), and the end. He is at his finest in DON’T DRINK THE WATER, taking some of Allen’s funniest lines and delivering them with a punch. The Forge needed to make another first row really quickly when they found there were more people there than seats. The first row was almost on top of the actors, and I commented to my husband that I thought the actors might be thrown off. Goretski came out and didn’t miss a beat, ad-libbing about it masterfully. That’s experience for you.

What makes the Forge so special is that they can constantly change the direction of the stage and seats, depending on the production. Because it is such a tiny space, you also have to get used to an actor being three feet in front of you. Due to the addition of the new first row, and even probably without it, I couldn’t see any of the action that was taking place on the couch (and there was quite a bit of it). I know the people around me were craning their necks to see also. Putting the couch on a riser definitely would have helped.

Randy Knox says in the program, “If you don’t think this show is hysterically funny – you either have no sense of humor or you’re a theatre critic. They usually go hand-in-hand.” Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Knox. (It also says, “If there are any theatre critics in the audience, Randy was kidding.”) OK…all is forgiven. DON’T DRINK THE WATER is definitely “laugh-out-loud” funny…all due to Woody Allen’s script and the Forge’s gifted performers.

By Woody Allen
Directed by Jim Kelsh
January 13-28, 2012
Forge Theatre
241 First Ave
Phoenixville, PA 19460

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