Building Laughter From the Stage Up
Students successfully take on Woody Allen in drama-comedy
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013 23:10
As we find ourselves entrenched in midterms, combing through piles of government notes, it may seem hard to find any humor in politics or even in your daily routine. Mask & Bauble’s production of “Don’t Drink the Water” may just change your mind.
“Don’t Drink the Water,” a 1966 play by Woody Allen, is an hour and a half packed full of witty one-liners, hysterical awkward pauses and even a couple of New Jersey jokes tossed into the mix. The show takes place in the American embassy of an unnamed European country behind the Iron Curtain and chronicles the struggles of a family of tourists who get mistaken for American spies and the hopeless son of a diplomat who tries to help them. The dramatic and hilarious plot twists provide an outlet through which the characters can shine and relate to the audience.
Nick Norberg (COL ’16) plays the bungling protagonist and chronic failure, Axel Magee. Though his character manages to find a way to screw everything up, Norberg still finds reason to stand by him.
“I think part of the reason that I love Axel so much and that I think Axel is so easy to love for an audience is because we’ve all been there. We’ve all screwed something up horribly and tried so hard to do the right thing, but just can’t. That’s Axel’s life,” Norberg said.
Magee develops a relationship with Susan Hollander, played by Maddie Kelley (COL ’16), and their character dynamic is fraught with entertaining physical tension and comical flirtation. This relationship is contrasted by Susan’s constantly bickering parents, Marion and Walter, played by Liz Robbins (MSB ’14) and Hoya staffer Matt Grisier (COL ’16), respectively (Grisier is the deputy opinin editor for The Hoya.) Their well-timed banter will make you believe that they’ve truly been married for a number of years and that these squabbles are just the daily fare.
“It was really weird how easily it came,” Robbins said. “I have to give a lot of credit to Matt, too, because as soon as he started reading it, it just came very naturally.”
These character interactions were developed over a relatively short preparation period, and director Joe Madsen (COL ’14) strove to create a rehearsal environment that matched the high-octane nature of the show.
“The goal we had for the rehearsal room was just that everyone was having fun, because if you’re having fun, the comedy will come out,” Madsen said. The actors found themselves enjoying the freedom they had to try outlandish and over-the-top theatrics during rehearsal as they became more comfortable with each other.
“A lot of the time, we would mess things up to eventually get what would be funniest, and that was really fun,” Kelley said.
For Madsen, directing “Don’t Drink the Water” has been a goal since the end of his freshman year. This is the sixth Georgetown theater production Madsen has worked on and the second he has directed. He was drawn to the way Allen’s work demands precise comedic timing and the way he man-ipulates an ensemble cast.
While some roles may allow the actor to have more lines, no singular role is any more crucial than another. Even the roles with less stage time produce peals of laughter from the unsuspecting audience, particularly the character Ms. Burns as played by Claire Derriennic (COL ’17), whose brief, frenzied moments on stage are sure to be some of your favorites.
“He allows characters to really bounce off each other and ricochet like a pinball machine,” Madsen said.
Though the rehearsal process can be tricky, the production side of a show can be even tougher. Poulton Hall has been the home for Mask and Bauble for a number of years and poses its own challenges for a production. As a black box theater, it begins as a nearly blank canvas with which the production staff must create an entirely new reality.
“We love it, and we love it for all that it offers and all that it doesn’t offer,” producer Nora Genster (SFS ’16) said. “It really encourages our designers to think of the space in a unique way and to build an area for the audience that maintains the intimate feel of a black box.”