Students Pour Their Hearts into ‘Don’t Drink the Water’

Theater director Keith Holden offers stage directions while Anna Francesca Schiavoni, Graham DiLorenzo and Gaylin Davey (standing in for Reilly Rose Schombs) act out a scene on the floor. Christine Sampson photo

The Pierson High School theater department has taken on dramatic stories, quirky family tales and traditional high school literary works, but this year is trying its hand at pure comedy with the Woody Allen play “Don’t Drink the Water.”

The show debuted on Broadway in 1966 and tells the story of a family of American tourists, the Hollanders, who accidentally take photographs in the wrong side of town in an unnamed Communist country. They are accused by police of being spies and flee to the American embassy. Stuck there with the incompetent son of the American ambassador trying to help them escape, hilarity ensues.

“We have not done a show like this,” director Keith Holden said during a recent rehearsal. “In the past, there may have been thematic connections to the students’ lives or exploring characters in depth, but this is all about comedy.”

Portraying the tourist family are a trio of Pierson seniors who shine not just because of their talent, but also because they have been performing together since their middle school years: Graham DiLorenzo, Reilly Rose Schombs and Anna Francesca Schiavoni.

Junior Lola Lama has also been cast as the leader of the Communist police, “Krojack,” a character that was originally written as a middle-aged man but who has been reimagined as a woman for the purposes of Pierson’s production.

“I think we’ve really cast appropriately for what they bring to the show,” said Elizabeth Cataletto, the producer and an art teacher at Pierson. “We’ve either pulled a little bit of their personalities into their characters, or given them a bit of a challenge so they’re not type-cast.”

Anna, Graham and Reilly are “like a little family,” Ms. Cataletto said, and for Lola, “this role is nothing like anything she has ever played, and she was up for the challenge.”

“I think we’re doing really great together,” said Lola, who has typically played “young adult” roles in Pierson shows but said she always wanted to try her hand at playing a villain. “The seniors are so incredible, and we’re trying to make it the best year it can be for them. Graham, Anna and Reilly are such leaders of this theater department, in my opinion.”

Graham, playing “Walter Hollander” opposite Reilly’s “Marion Hollander,” Walter’s wife, said the chemistry between them has upped the ante on the show’s already comedic script.

“Walter is really fun because he complains a lot and gets into a lot of arguments with his wife, which is fun to play, because Reilly is such a fun person to be on stage with in general,” Graham said.

Anna, playing “Susan Hollander,” the wonder-filled daughter, agreed with Lola.

“We work very well together and every rehearsal is so much fun,” she said.

Graham said in “Don’t Drink the Water,” every scene is so funny that “it stands on its own.”

“There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, and it’s really entertaining,” he said.

Just wait until you see the scene in which the Hollanders and Axel Magee, played by junior Yanni Bitis, play “Hot Potato” with a fake stick of dynamite.

On the outset, it may seem like there are some parallels to current events at work — the play takes place in an unnamed Communist country under an “Iron Curtain”-like shroud of control — but Ms. Cataletto and Mr. Holden said they did not aim for any political ties.

“It was intentionally not something we talked about,” Mr. Holden said.

Instead, he said, what they did talk about with the students was the concept of theater being “a good time” for all involved.

“Everywhere you look — the news, TV — it’s pretty depressing,” he said. “Live theater is just an escape.”

Earlier this year, when Mr. Holden and Ms. Cataletto found themselves first seeking a play with roles for more students and, later, trying to find a replacement script after they were denied the rights to “Sense and Sensibility,” which they’d already cast, they realized “Don’t Drink the Water” would work out well.

“This is the funniest of the three shows,” Ms. Cataletto said. “We always play with traditional ideas like ‘Our Town,’ but in this area the feedback comes when people tell us how funny the show was and how good they feel when they leave.”

“Don’t Drink the Water” runs Thursday, November 15, at 7 p.m.; Friday, November 16, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday November 17, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $7 and are on sale in the main office at Pierson Middle-High School.

Lola Lama as “Krojack,” Dylan Kruel as “Father Drobney,” Graham DiLorenzo as “Walter Hollander” and Gaylin Davey (standing in for Reilly Rose Schombs) during a scene in “Don’t Drink the Water.” Christine Sampson photo