Woody Allen play to kick off Akron theatre season

Joel Tianello

“The boy with the blue hair is fondling a chipmunk,” Timothy Kelley says in code over an imaginary phone while trying to keep a straight face.

Kelley is playing the delusional Father Drobney in Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” the first play of the Akron Coach House Theatre’s 2006-2007 season.

“The pace and dialogue of a Woody Allen play is challenging to an unfamiliar cast,” said Jim Fippin, Coach House artistic director. “It’s a lot like doing Shakespeare.”

Fippin, who last directed the Agatha Christie play “Murder on the Nile,” is beginning his seventh season at the theater by directing “Water.”

The cast has been rehearsing five nights a week for nearly two weeks. They will continue rehearsing right up until opening night.

The play, set at the height of the Cold War, centers on a New Jersey caterer, Walter Hollander, and his family, who are forced into a U.S. embassy after being accused of spying behind the Iron Curtain.

The Hollanders’ luck only gets comically worse as the ambassador is on vacation. The ambassador’s incompetent son falls for the Hollanders’ engaged daughter, and no escape plan seems to go right.

“I don’t eat oysters. You have to eat them alive,” states the Jersey caterer, being portrayed by Jack Herman of Stow. “I like my food dead. Not sick, not wounded — dead!”

Herman has appeared in the Coach House productions of “Witness for the Prosecution” and “Play It Again, Sam.”

Fippin said he chose “Water” to open the season in lieu of doing another Neil Simon play, like last season.

“Both Allen and Simon got their starts writing for 1950s sketch comedies, so that’s where their humor comes from,” Fippin said. “They set up a situation, and the jokes come from that situation.”

“They have a specific style of comedy that’s popular with audiences, and a lot of fun for us to do,” said Fippin.

The critically acclaimed “Don’t Drink the Water” was originally written for Broadway by Allen in 1966 and was made into a motion picture starring Jackie Gleason in 1969.

Allen was so unhappy with the ’69 adaptation that he remade the film in 1994, starring himself and Julie Kavner (Marge from “The Simpsons”), as the Hollanders.

The Coach House Theatre will be performing Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” and David Mamet’s “A Life in the Theatre” later this season.

“Don’t Drink the Water” will open Sept. 7 and run through Sept. 23. Tickets are $15 for the public and $6 for students.

The Coach House Theatre is located in downtown Akron, about 20 minutes from Kent State.

For directions and ticket sales go to coachhousetheatre.org or call (330) 434-7741.

Contact general assignment reporter Joel Tianello at [email protected].