Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, July, 2000
I have never reviewed a Starlight production before because, well, I’m the co-director of the company, that’s why! But, this being our 25th anniversary seaon, I wanted us to have a little something more than just the customary listing. And, being a youth theatre, I will not really review the show in the sense that I do professional productions with performers who are over 18. I might also just note that neither of my children are in this show, and my husband didn’t direct it, so I am as free from conflict of interest as I can be under the circumstances.
Early Woody Allen always makes me laugh. When I was young Allen often contributed short funny pieces to The New Yorker and I would read them aloud to my parents over breakfast. We would all choke on our toast and roll around on the floor.
In recent years the darker aspects of Allen’s personal life have been pushed to the fore and people find it hard to distinguish between the all-too-human artist and his art. In fact there are people who have raised their eye-brows and seemed shocked that we would “expose young people” to anything as perverse as a play by Woody Allen, as if just speaking words that he typed on a page would have an evil influence and cause all our students to grow up and marry their adopted children. I can assure you that this is not the case and that Allen’s late ’60’s opus “Don’t Drink the Water” is a very funny show without a hint of evil in it.
It is also much better than the film that was made of it starring Jackie Gleason, Estelle Parsons and Ted Bessell. It is a harmless comedy of errors, very much stuck in the Cold War era in which it was written.
Not only is there the happy shock of rediscovering an earlier more-slapstick Woody Allen, but there is the pleasant surprise that this particular Junior Starlight group really has their act together. Junior Starlight is comprised of local boys and girls ages 8-11 who have spent the last four weeks preparing this show. Many of them have been a part of the company for three or four years now, and so there is a level of comfort and assurance that we don’t get with a group of newbies, but this year even the newbies really shine.
I don’t usually single out younger actors for praise, but I was just blown away by Hannah Tool in the Jackie Gleason role as Walter Hollander. Having not been inimately involved with the production, I was stumped when a parent asked me at intermission “Who is the boy playing Walter?” I thought of all the boys we had and knew it wasn’t any of them so I suggested that perhaps it was a girl. “Oh no, he’s a boy. I can tell” this parent replied, and I must say that I agreed with her. Tool really did convince me that she was a boy, and almost that she understood something of what it was to be a middle-aged caterer from New Jersey!
But lots of our stalwarts from years earlier have really grown up and turned in polished performances. Lucy White as Miss Kilroy and Katie Rose DeCandia as Axel Magee both surprised me with their new-found maturity. And newcomer Adrianna Carter was just cute as a button as the maid. Wait until she gets to be 10!
Overall this is a fun evening, a great chance to see some of our young folks in a new light, and a chance to look back at the scope of Woody Allen’s humor. I don’t think I’d like to have dinner with the man, but he sure does make me laugh.
The Junior Starlight production of “Don’t Drink the Water” runs through July 20-22 at the First Congregational Church, 906 Main Street (Rt.2) in Williamstown. The show runs two hours with one intermission. Tickets are $5 at the door. For further information call 413-458-4246.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000