Instead, Crisonino said he is using Jackie Gleason as a model. Gleason played the part in the movie version of the play.
The play is a Cold War political comedy, but Woody Allen’s humor is timeless and still relevant in its snipes at bureaucracy and abuse of power.
“Don't Drink the Water,” a two-act play with five scenes in the first act and four in the second,
premiered on Broadway on November 17, 1966.
The farce takes place inside a U.S. Embassy behind the Iron Curtain, in an unnamed country. The U.S. ambassador must leave the embassy for business. In his absence he places his incompetent son Axel Magee in charge. Almost immediately the embassy is thrust into a crisis as the Hollanders, an American family of tourists, comes rushing in on the run from the communist police.
Crisonino’s Walter Hollander, the father, had accidentally sneaked into a high-security area and taken pictures, causing the communists to believe that the family is spying. Axel digs the hole deeper and the embassy is surrounded, leaving the Hollanders trapped.
“It’s about three tourists from Newark, who go to Europe for three weeks and the husband, Walter Hollander, gets caught taking a picture of missiles and rockets,” said Crisonino. “The country automatically thinks that we’re spies. But really, I’m a caterer. The story is about us going into the U.S Embassy and trying to work our way back to Newark. All he wants to do is get his family back to Newark where they came from.”
This local touch is not lost on the actors, which adds even more to the fun of the play.
This is a summer production, said Serge Puchinsky, who has shifted from his usual role as musical director to becoming an actor’s coach, since this is a non-musical play.
Stephen Haldik plays Mr. Kilroy, the assistant to the ambassador, though not ostensibly a spy. “I am in my own way,” Haldik said.
Learning the lines is a challenge for the actors, partly because of the running jokes which require precise delivery and attention to wording, said Tim Craig, director of the BHS Arts Department. Also, they’ve had only a short time to learn them.
Unlike the performances during the school year, the summer performance leaves very little time to prepare.
“In the other shows we’ve done, we had a couple of months to learn,” said Haldik. “We have a much shorter time to learn our lines, about three weeks to learn and put up the show.”
Crisonino, despite being from Bayonne, also had to learn how to “talk Jersey,” a lesson in how people from New Jersey often sound to those not living here.
“We’re from Jersey, but I’m trying to mock those people who have the worst Jersey accent,” Crisonino said. “So I’m trying to interpret that, too.”
Haldik said the challenge for him was finding the right balance between comedy and character.
“I want to be funny, but be true,” he said. He said because the language is very particular, he uses an acting technique that tries not to be funny. “I like Woody Allen,” he said. Doing one of his plays is fun.”
Samantha Kobryn plays Susan Hollander, Walter’s daughter.
“I usually play the funny characters,” Kobryn said, having played in nine student productions. “But she’s more down to earth.”
She described “Don’t Drink the Water” as a farce: “There are a lot of jokes.”
Kobryn said her dream is to get on Broadway, or to be a professional dancer like a Rockette. She said she was inspired by seeing a lot of shows, and dancing.
“I want to be an actor but also to write and direct for film or TV, although I love theater,” Haldik said
Crisonino said, “I would like to pursue Broadway, and if that falls through, do something behind the scenes. I would also like to pursue directing.”
As acting coach, Serge Puchinsky said there are a lot of outrageous characters. “One of the things I do is help the actors find the humor in the lines and bring them to life,” he said.
Tim Craig said there are 11 kids in this play, which is an outgrowth of classes held during the year.
“I’ve loved this play for a long time and I’m a huge Woody Allen fan,” Craig said. “We wanted to do a farce comedy.”
Farce is a genre that the acting classes at the school explored this year.
“So we wanted to build upon that,” Craig said.
The language and the jokes are the focus of this farce, and even though it is set in the Cold War, many of the observations are relevant today. While some of the actors may not see the relevance, adults attending the performance will, Craig said.
“In a musical, they might say a few lines and then go into a song,” Craig said. “This is all about building a character. It’s different from what they are used to doing.”
The Bayonne High School Drama Society’s production of Woody Allan’s, “Don’t Drink the Water!” is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, July 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. and Sunday July 21 at 2 p.m. in the Alexander X. O’Connor Auditorium at Bayonne High School. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at the door or in advance at www.bhsdramasociety.com.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.