The Super Villain of Comic Books

By Nicholas W McClellan

Van Wert Civic Theatre is well into production of its last show of the 2013/14 season with a “super comedy of heroic proportions” entitled Insane With Power, by Scott Haan and directed by Bob Howell.

Insane With Power follows Lois Lancaster (Kim Hughes), a big-city journalist writing about the current state of mental health facilities. Her research takes her to a hospital populated with a unique group of quirky inmates who imagine they are crime-fighting superheroes inspired from the comic books. It’s a mix of Superman meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Comic books entered the literary and visual arts scene in 1933. Initial comic books were merely a reprinting of comic strips which had already established many of the motifs and devices used in comics.

It wasn’t until the late 1940s and early ‘50s that comic books’ reputation came under attack. Fredric Werthman, a distinguished psychiatrist, led a campaign ruthlessly attacking comic books he defined as violent, officially dawning him the villain to the art form of comic books.

In his 1954 bestseller entitled Seduction of the Innocent, Werthman argued that comic books were single handedly perverting the imaginations of children across the nation. Children, according to Werthman were acquiring a “taste for blood and gore” that would prevent them from enjoying literary classics such as Frankenstein, Merchant of Venice and other forms of fine art.

Werthman’s paranoia of the power of comic books led him to believe that Superman was an allusion to Nazi Germany’s SS, Batman and Robin was overtly homoerotic, and the adventures of Wonder Woman would threaten young ladies by turning them into lesbians. During the period in which Werthman made his attacks on the genre, comic books were extremely popular amongst children and young adult readers, selling between 80 and 100 million copies weekly.

While some may still argue Werthman’s dated claims, the moral authorities of the time jumped on the bandwagon. In a post World War II America, religious  and patriotic organizations from shore to shore led mass book burning parties in an attempt to bring attention to the lascivious and violent comic books.

But, it seems Werthman’s argument wasn’t completely paranoid and off-base. He also argued that comic books were filled with misogyny and racism. EC comics regularly featured husbands and wives ending marital spats with knives, axes, and poison. On the racial front, Will Eisner’s much-loved Spirit featured a Sambo-like sidekick named Ebony White, who was childish, had thick lips, and spoke in an illiterate minstrel dialect.

As a result of this moral panic, the once-thriving comic-book industry went into a severe decline. In the two years after Wertham’s book came out, more than a dozen publishers and hundreds of cartoonists left the field. Those publishers that remained were severely restricted by a self-imposed code that prevented comics from publishing anything but the most anodyne kiddies’ fare. Only with the rise of graphic novels in the last few years have comics recovered from the stigma of the Wertham years.

Insane With Power by Scott Haan, being performed at the Van Wert Civic Theatre May 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 understands comic books quite well and it stands as a hilarious homage to the genre. Fans of comedy and super heroes alike are sure to get a “KAPOW!” out of this epic farce. For more information, visit us at vwct.org, “like” us on facebook and “follow” us on Twitter and Pinterest.

See you at the show, my fellow citizens!

From Communism to Comic Books

By Nicholas W McClellan

Either I’m hungry or I’ve been watching too much Cake Boss on TLC, but I think VWCT’s Don’t Drink the Water was like a perfectly constructed cake. From the moment I picked up the script, I knew this production would become something of comedy legend at Van Wert Civic Theatre. If you were not in attendance for this show (March 13th through the 23rd), you’ll be hearing about it for years to come.

First, there’s the script, a recipe for comedy provided by the famed Woody Allen. His script is light, simple and full of sugar and nuts. A quality recipe isn’t enough though; a great cake needs a great baker and great ingredients.

Don’t Drink the Water was Chris Butturff’s directorial debut here at VWCT and we applaud him! He selected and mixed his ingredients like a veteran baker. The ingredients, the cast, complimented each other perfectly. Steve Lane and Amber Evans executed their roles as Walter and Marion Hollander (tourists from New Jersey) with precise comedic timing and a truly convincing accent. Thanks for being a part of our theatre family, Steve and Amber, and bravo to your performance.

Other standout ingredients of our production came from newcomer Mac King through his portrayal of Axel Magee, the bumbling son to U.S. Ambassador James Magee. Jenna Brunk, also a new face to VWCT, performed her role as Susan Hollander, daughter to Walter and Marion, with the coy touch of a seasoned pro. Mac and Jenna, we hope to see you both again at Van Wert Civic Theatre.

Veteran stage artist Doug Grooms portrayal of Krojack, head of the Communist police, was also utterly absorbing. His harsh brow-line, sneering gaze, and flawless eastern European accent quietly communicated his contempt for all things American; the fact he wielded a gun on stage most of the time didn’t hurt either.

Monica Campbell’s performance of the supremely cantankerous Chef at the U.S. Embassy was delectable. Her authentic, fiery character was a welcome and hilarious ingredient as was Perry S. Luhn’s portrayal of Father Drobney, a Catholic priest on the run for six years from Communist capture. Every fall and every failed magic trick he performed still has me chuckling.

A special thank you also goes out to the supporting cast and crew. Joe Maurer (Kilroy), Gene Craft (Mr Burns), Steve Bricker (Ambassador Magee), Charlie Diefenbacher (Sultan of Bashir), Dave Ricker (Kasnar), Lisa Eichler (Countess Bordoni), Jane Lianez (assistant director), Amy Boley (set and lights), Linda McClure (costumes and props), and Burdette Bollenbaugh (sound) your dedication to Don’t Drink the Water and Van Wert Civic Theatre is sincerely appreciated.

Yet, there’s one last ingredient I’ve left out. That’s where you come in, VWCT audience. Thank you for your time and generous support in our efforts to provide the Van Wert area with award winning community theatre. Your support to the arts is invaluable and we hope to see you again in our auditorium very soon.

Your next opportunity to enjoy our one-hundred percent volunteer theatrical productions begins May 1st with the premier of Insane with Power by Scott Haan, directed by Bob Howell and assisted by Doug Grooms.

This over-the-top, comic book inspired farce begins as Lois Lancaster (played by Kim Hughes)  a big-city journalist, prepares to write a story about the current state of modern mental health facilities. Her research takes her to a hospital populated with a unique group of superheroes. At first, Lois finds their elaborate superhero fantasies to be an entertaining diversion, the wild delusions of unstable minds, until something unusual happens that makes her wonder.

Cast members include Kim Hughes as LOIS LANCASTER, Tina Kowalski as DR. EISNER, Kari Gall as MENTAL, Joe Maurer as SPEED FREAK, Dan Hirn as KEVIN BENDIS, and Nick McClellan as DIM BULB.  Mark those calendars now, this “super comedy of heroic proportions” will be performed May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10. For more information, visit vwct.org.

Thank you to everyone involved in supporting the arts here in Van Wert, Ohio. See you at the show!

Tell a Fish to Climb a Tree

By Nicholas W McClellan

Thirsty for entertainment? Shake your head “yes” and call the Van Wert Civic Theatre box-office between 2pm and 6pm, today through Saturday to make your reservations for Don’t Drink the Water (remaining performance run March 20th through the 23rd).

The action of this farce, Woody Allen’s first professional produced play, takes place in an American Embassy in an eastern European country under the clenched fist of Communist control. United States Ambassador, James F. Magee (Steve Bricker), is preparing to leave his outpost to pursue the possibility of governorship in his home state.

To be left in charge is the Ambassador’s son and assistant, Axel Magee (Mac King). He’s a pleasant, well-meaning young man whose career in the foreign services has been a series of disasters. He’s always trying, but somehow, everything always manages to go wrong.

For the remainder of the play, Axel is the substitute ambassador. His father has set the bar very high and expects operations at the embassy to “run letter perfect” while simultaneously reminding him of all he has done wrong concerning foreign services (“You were in Brazil for two weeks and you had them importing coffee!”). By setting the expectations at perfection, a degree that no one can live up to, Ambassador Magee has doomed his son to failure. As a substitute teacher, I know a lot about the power of expectations and sympathize with Axel in his new position.

The  first task for any substitute is find the room and look over the teacher’s lesson plans. It has many similarities to an improvised performance. The subject (math, science, English, etc) is the genre of the performance and the teacher’s lesson plans function a lot like rough script – and there’s sure to be plenty of audience interaction.

On this particular day, I am a sixth grade science teacher. Upon entering the room, I quickly scan for open sources of candy, a reward mechanism for students and an energy source for substitutes. Unfortunately, no candy is to be had. The lesson plans are neat and orderly, dictating the schedule of the day and what is to be covered in each section (today we’re discussing plant and animal cells). In addition, the teacher has provided a list of names in each class: the “helpers” and the “trouble-makers.”

A bell rings and the halls fill with bedlam as the student’s go to their lockers and prepare for a day in academia. In small herds, the students enter the room. I introduce myself and take attendance taking special note of the “helpers” and the “trouble-makers.”

The “helpers,” two girls and a boy, are sitting patiently at their desks awaiting further instruction while the two “agitators,” both boys, are out of their seats and talking at full volume. Individually, I approach the misbehaving duo.

Instead of scolding them (reinforcing the label of “trouble-maker”) I give them classroom duties. As the “hooligans” distribute the worksheets on cell structures to their classmates, I begin to explain the assignment. The student “rabble-rousers” now turned classroom “helpers” return to their seat. “Thank you for you assistance, gentlemen. You’re very helpful. Pat yourselves on the back.”

For the remainder of the period, the students defined as “trouble-makers” behave… appropriately. By no means I am suggesting their behavior completely changed, but by reversing the expectation placed on them, they behaved to meet those new expectations. It’s called social-labeling theory, the theory of how self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them.

Axel Magee, the son of the ambassador in Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water, has been told for his entire career in foreign services that he is a “screw-up,” a “blunderer” and so his behavior continues to be influenced by this labeling; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s like what Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” If I set unreasonable expectations of someone and judge them based on that, they will fail and judge themselves to be a failure.

Poor Axel Magee. Will anyone ever believe in him? Will someone finally ignore Axel’s international blunders and have faith in him? To find out, please join us for our production of Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water Call 419-238-9689 between 2pm and 6pm, Monday through Saturday to make your reservations. There are only four more performances left, March 20, 21, 22, and 23. Visit vwct.org, “like” us on facebook, and “follow” us Pinterest and Twitter.

See you at the show!

For My Next Trick

By Nicholas W McClellan

“Grandma, watch this!” I shout, entering the room. Grandma Betty is compacting the trash again (a magic trick of her own) by cutting everything into small square pieces. She did this every week, enough to earn the nickname, “Confetti Betty”.

I clear my throat in preparation. “Watch as I turn this ordinary Dixon Ticonderoga pencil into… RUBBER!” In an up-and-down motion, I shake the pencil, parallel to the ground, with a loose grip between my thumb and index finger. I stand tall, assuming my grandma thinks me powerful enough to transmutate wood into rubber.

Yet, my grandma’s “oohs and aahs” were not because she thought I performed actual magic, she cheered because she liked the show (and the performer).

In my youth, I had a “minor obsession” with magic, creating an illusion for a captive audience. I think it’s why I was so drawn to theatre in the first place because it’s also an an act, a purposeful “trick” with an intent to entertain. An audience knows the magic is not real, but they choose to suspend disbelief (hopefully). For example, an audience is not expected to actually believe that a woman is cut or transformed into a gorilla in order to enjoy the performance.

Magic and misdirection are a common motif in many Woody Allen comedy classics. Father Drobney, the narrator of Don’t Drink the Water (premiering March 13th at VWCT), has been taking refuge in an embassy of the United State for over six years to evade capture by Communist police. He’s a Catholic priest and an amateur magician (played by Perry S. Luhn) who resides within a country “where out of four million inhabitants, 3,975,000 are atheists, and about 24,000 are agnostics – and the other thousand are Jewish.” He has a lot of work on his hands, unless he “can attempt the biggest mass conversion in history,” a magic trick of epic proportions.

Actually, the plot of Don’t Drink the Water plays out like one big magic trick, specifically “the escape trick”. But, instead of an escape from a block-of-ice, handcuffs, a straightjacket, or a trunk, the Hollander family (American tourists played by Steve Lane, Amber Evans, and Jenna Brunk) in Don’t Drink the Water have to escape from an Embassy of the United States without being killed by the Communist police who think they’re American spies. Think of it like that one trick where the magician is handcuffed, shackled and placed into a tank of water. If he doesn’t escape from his restraints in three minutes or less, a bucket of flesh eating piranhas are tossed into the tank.

The parallels between theatre and magic are obvious. It’s a lie, a deception, but… an honest one. As an audience member of Don’t Drink the Water, you will not be asked to believe we’ve transported you to a small eastern European country somewhere behind the Iron Curtain (furthermore, it takes place in the 1960’s). What you will be asked to do is not “disbelieve” we’ve kidnapped you and stuck you in a time machine.

In order to do this, director Chris Butturff has assembled a top-notch cast and crew sure to hold your attention long enough to distract you from the fact that you are not inside the walls of an Embassy of the United States (the setting of Don’t Drink the Water), but sitting in an auditorium of a small community theatre, nestled in the heart of Van Wert, Ohio.

It’s what good magic and good theatre do best, suspend your disbelief through the art of distraction. It’s the only way to enjoy theatre and magic, and it’s the only way the Hollanders are going to make it out of the U.S. Embassy without being killed by the Communist police.

So, join us at VWCT for our production of Don’t Drink the Water on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23 to see the magic of theatre and the art of distraction. Call the VWCT box-office at 419-238-9689 Monday through Saturday between 2pm and 6pm to make your reservations. For more information, visit http://vwct.org.

Fearing the Road Less Traveled

By Nicholas W McClellan

We’ve all heard the phrase “fight or flight” in reference to dealing with stressors and fear.

The characters in Don’t Drink the Water, Van Wert Civic Theatre’s fourth show of the season premiering March 13th are all, for a majority of the show, in a state of fear – with well written comic effect by Woody Allen. They face fears such as living up to the expectations of a successful father, an unhappy marriage, and a failing business.

The action begins as the Hollander family (American tourists played by Amber Evans, Steve Lane, and Jenna Brunk) flee the capture of Communist police who think their spies by taking refuge in an American Embassy. Unfortunately for them, the ambassador is away on business and has left his incompetent son (Axel Magee) in charge. This fear of death unifies most of the characters toward a common goal: surviving.

Yet, the point is not that fear exists, it’s how the characters (and generally all people) handle fear I’m interested in. How does one successfully overcome a stressful (and possibly life-ending) situation? The key, in my opinion, is trust… and a heavy dose of comedy with intended laughter.

For example, I recently had a brush with death. It was a Friday night after a performance of Avenue Q (VWCT’s third show of the season). I was ready for a tall 7&7 and some delicious, free fried chicken wings provided by our esteemed director, Jerry Zimmerman (Jerry co-owns The Fort, a fantastic eatery and bar in the heart of Fort Jennings).

Because my car was in the shop at Hegemier’s, my friend Myron volunteered to drive me to the cast party. Let it be known that though he is a brilliant psychologist, he is not an observant driver. Consequently, if you are ever a passenger in his car – it is absolutely terrifying, even in perfect driving conditions.

The snow began to fall just as the curtain on Avenue Q came down. We headed east on route 30 from Washington.  It was if the snow was attacking us as ferocious winds blasted the rusted metal shell of Myron’s maroon Chevy Lumina. “Please slow down, Myron.” I pleaded.

My heart raced as the road in front of us kept disappearing under the drifting white powder. Each time the wind blew, the road completely vanished for a moment which motivated Myron to swerve right and left in an attempt to “find” the road.

I felt sweat on my forehead and palms. For a moment, the wind died down and a peaceful car ride seemed almost possible. This gave Myron a moment to change the station on the radio. As he fumbled with the dial, the heaviest wind gust of the evening hurled a thick wall of snow. There was no road, houses, street lamps, or sky, just ceaseless white, everywhere.

Suddenly, Myron jerked the wheel to the right, thinking the road had veered. “We are going off the road.” I calmly asserted.

From beneath the vehicle, I  heard repetitive thuds while my body bounced along. “WE ARE IN A CORNFIELD!” This assertion was slightly less calm. Yet, before I could completely lose my cool, Myron had managed to redirect his vehicle back to the road. Disaster was averted.

“Well, that was exciting.” Myron chuckled and continued on his merry way.

I was honestly afraid I might die. Despite the real fear of imminent death, I kept my calm. The last thing that was going to help the situation was to flip out, grab the wheel, and yell obscenities at the top of my lungs. Apparently, it’s feasible to imagine the possibility of your demise and not go completely insane in the process. How was this possible; what allowed me to be rational when confronted with terror?

This was possible because I trust Myron and I’m willing to find humor in most situations. I was able to let go. Without trust (and an ability to laugh), any fear or stressful situation can be consuming.The characters in Don’t Drink the Water, running March 13th through the 23rd at Van Wert Civic Theatre, figure this out, too. The only way the Hollander family is going to escape the embassy is if they have faith in each other and their new friends at the embassy. People need people to live (and to laugh with and at).

I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to trust others (realise what’s out of your control) and laugh whenever possible. I invite you to explore these issues yourself, by joining us at Van Wert Civic Theatre for our production of Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23. Call 419-238-9689 between 2:00pm and 6:00pm, Monday through Saturday starting March 10th to make your reservations. “Like” us on facebook and “follow” us on Pinterest and Twitter. For more information visit http://vwct.org

Don’t miss this show. Trust me!

WARNING: DON’T DRINK THE WATER

By Nicholas W McClellan

DDWfb3For three long days, I thought about it, the title to Woody Allen’s comedy-classic, Don’t Drink the Water, currently in production at Van Wert Civic Theatre. I read the script twice, thinking to myself, “Did I miss something?” No where in the script does it mention anything about water.

Could the title just be a simple idiom, a warning to those traveling abroad? Let’s look at the premise for this production. At the center of the action is Axel Magee (Mac King), son to Ambassador James F. Magee (Steve Bricker). Axel has been left in charge of the embassy while his father is away on business. Unfortunately (fortunately for audience members), the Ambassador’s son “is the only man in the history of the foreign service to accidentally wrap his lunch in a peace treaty.”

Just moments after the Ambassador is out the door, pandemonium ensues! An American tourist (Steve Lane), a caterer by trade, his wife (Amber Evans)  and his daughter (Jenna Brunk) rush into the embassy two steps ahead of the Communist police who suspect them of spying. With the assistance of Axel Magee and a Catholic Priest (who’s also an amateur magician performed by Perry S. Luhn) the family carefully plot their escape from the embassy and the clutches of Communism.

Apparently, the answer is yes; Don’t Drink the Water, premiering March 13th, has nothing to do with water or the consumption of it. But, that didn’t stop me from doing some exhaustive googling concerning water in attempt to relate the title to themes within the show.

Encouraging someone to “not drink the water” when traveling brings up issues of trust, a principal theme of Don’t Drink the Water. It’s about relationships, the bonds between family members, between near-strangers. Its about a mutual dependence between individuals to accomplish something and in the process, becoming more than individuals. They become a team (Democracy versus Communism. Spoiler alert: Democracy wins!).

Water acts in very much the same way. For millennia, scientists considered water an element all on its own, but a water molecule contains one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. These atoms are bound together by shared electrons.

The natural water molecule has a ‘V’ shape; in electrical terms, it is polar, meaning that one side of the molecule carries a negative charge (the oxygen atom) and the other side carries a positive charge (the hydrogen atoms). In this way, a water molecule is somewhat like a magnet. But, it’s not enough for this newly formed molecule of water to simply exist on its own. Because of their natural polarity, water molecules attract one another and stick together. Not only does hydrogen and oxygen want to share resources (electrons), they want to work closely together.

The characters in VWCT’s production of Don’t Drink the Water may not be as willing to work side by side when facing adversity as our pals oxygen and hydrogen (i.e. the blunders, buffoonery, and the ego trips which are a source of non-stop laughs). Yet, once they learn about themselves, discover what each other has to offer, they begin to understand that the only way to escape the embassy without dying at the hands of the Communist police is to bond, trust each other and work as a team.

ddweventprep3Thankfully for our lives and our survival, hydrogen and oxygen have been a team since just shortly after the Big Bang. And even though Woody Allen may have never meant the title of Don’t Drink the Water to be anything more than a reference to the dangers of traveling in foreign lands, I think a little understanding of how water works relates poignantly to the plot and the importance of interdependence. Without each other, we are less likely to succeed, let alone survive.

The completely volunteer cast of of Don’t Drink the Water has been working together and bonding for over a month and is nearly ready to present a night of pure comedy from the mind of the Woody Allen. Support the arts and community by joining us on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23. The box-office opens to the general public March 10th. Call 419-238-9689 between 2pm and 6pm, Monday through Saturday to make your reservations. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit http://vwct.org, “like” us on facebook, and “follow” us on Pinterest and Twitter.

Ice hope to sea you at the show and if you can think of some better water related puns, let minnow.

Eight Doors and a Fart

By Nicholas W McClellan

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Don’t miss your chance to see this slice of Americana by Woody Allen on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23!

“What’s the next play at VWCT?” Merry Thomas asks me while we enjoy our chocolate long-johns from Brookside.

With cream stuck to the edges my mouth, “It’s called Don’t Drink the Water, a Woody Allen farce about this New Jersey family on the run from the Communist police who think they’re spies and have to take refuge in an American embassy run by the son of the ambassador, an incompetent young man who’s been banned from the continent of Africa.”

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Precious Chell is about to make a scrumptious meal. You can tell because she’s wearing an apron.

“You know what,” says Merry as she pets her precious ‘lil beagle named Chell, “we’ve deboned our fair share of farces over the years, starred in quite a few, and even had some email correspondence with the likes of Pat Cook and Billy Van Zandt (famous playwrights); I bet we could write a farce of our own.”

Merry scrambles to get her dainty Miss Piggy notepad in preparation for milling some ideas. I can see the metaphorical cogs in her brain beginning to turn as she scratches her head with the eraser of a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil. “We needs lots of doors, like eight of ‘um” she exclaims, her pencil furiously scribing, “with really strong hinges!” A common bit within a traditional farce is a ton of fast-paced stage entrances and exits.

“Do we want a ghostly element? Or maybe a dead body that the cast keeps losing track of?” I add to keep the thought-snowball rolling. “All of the above?” she replies in a half-question, half-statement.

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Marnie (Amber Evans) gets up close and personal with the handyman (Chris Burkheimer) as Midge (Merry Thomas) looks on in horror (WRONG WINDOW – VWCT 2012)

“And it seems like every farce we’ve been in ends with a joke from lamesville. It’s like a fart in the audience’s face. Remember Marnie’s lines at the end of Wrong Window last year at VWCT (played by Amber Evans who is also starring in our current production Don’t Drink the Water)?”

“What if at the end of our farce, the entire cast does a chorus line to a zippy-tune and then turns around and simultaneously farts at the audience and then curtain closes?” I enquire. My question is met with dumbstruck silence. Suddenly, Merry enthusiastically retorts, “YYESSS! We’re doing this This is a thing!” as she continues to take notes.

For over an hour, Merry and I researched the genre of farce laying the foundation for our play. “Farce” as defined on Wikipedia, is “a comedy that depends for its humor on quick and surprising turns of events and on exaggerated characters and situations, or the type of humor characteristic of such a play.”

Dionysus is makin’ it rain!

Farces found their start with the Greeks, through the Satyr play in honor of Dionysus (god of the grape harvest) These were bawdy tragicomedies that were overflowing with mock drunkenness, sight gags, pranks and general wackiness. These were followed by the Atellan Farce. Popular in ancient Rome and named after the town Atella where they originated, Atellan Farces were rife with low-brow humor and buffoonish comedy. Japan also got in the on the act with Kyōgen plays, absurd interludes meant as intermissions to the more solemn Noh plays.

Even the greatest writers in the English language tried their hand at farce. Geoffrey Chaucer’s immortal “The Canterbury Tales” has elements of farce, while anyone familiar with William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” can attest to the Bard’s abilities with the absurd. The United States naturally gave the farce its own American zap of zaniness, most notably with the screwball comedies of the 1930s.

Farce, having once been relegated to the lowest level of the series headed by tragedy, has a dozen definitions in standard reference books that testify to the fact that it is a “low” form of theatrical presentation, the sole object of which, according to resources, is to excite laughter. I strongly disagree with these assertions.

woodyOur current production, Don’t Drink the Water by Woody Allen is certainly not the village idiot of the performing arts. Like all of Woody Allen’s scripts, it has heart and depth in addition to a generous helping of slapstick and horseplay. Mark your calendars now. Don’t Drink the Water will be performed March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23 at the Van Wert Civic Theatre. The box-office opens to the general public beginning March 10. Please join us as we continue VWCT’s own tradition of fantastic, absurdly funny farces. Like us on facebook, follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and visit http://vwct.org for more informtion.

Also, keep an eye out for Merry Thomas and Nick McClellan’s two-act farce entitled, Eight Doors and a Fart – coming to a community theatre near you (maybe).

Open Letter to Vladimir Putin

By Nicholas W McClellan

Good day to you! My name is Nicholas Wade McClellan, board member at the Van Wert Civic Theatre in Van Wert, Ohio.

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I’m writing to you today to discuss a few things that have been on my mind and to inform you of our next production, Don’t Drink the Water by Woody Allen. This farce, which takes place in or around your beloved homeland during the heart of the Cold War, premiers on the VWCT stage starting March 13.

Now, on to the meat of my discussion. It’s been over twenty years since the Cold War ended, but recently I’m thinking we should put that Iron Curtain back up. Amid daily reports of blunder after blunder surrounding the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, it boggles the mind to conceive that you spent $51 billion dollars in preparation. Meanwhile, Olympians are without proper drinking water, chairs, or Chobani Greek yogurt and your Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak let slip that at least some showers have surveillance cameras pointed toward them.

putintoiletI used to think you were cooler than Optimus Prime. You were a secret-agent and then segued your ultra-diplomatic prowess to become the leader of the entire Western Bloc. While at the helm of Russia, you sextupled the GDP and doubled the average national wage. And now, in 2014, you can’t even provide stalls with a single toilet  - nope, two-toilet-stalls for everybody!

putinjetBack in 2010, while wildfires nearly decimated Ryazan region of Russia, did you get into your favorite suit to assure local residents? No, of course not! You strapped yourself into a Beriev BE-200 amphibious aircraft and let the Putin fury spray down onto the raging inferno below, single handedly beating the fire into submission. Mother Russia: 1; Mother Nature: 0.

PutinJudoIn addition to your command over nature, you blew my mind with your supreme Judo skills. In 2003 when you visited Japan on official trade business, instead of a presentation with a series of ceaseless pie charts and graphs, you showcased your ability to beat the Japanese at their own sport as you performed immobilization techniques, sweeps, and throws. I’m on chapter three of your book, Judo: History, Theory and Practice. It’s riveting, sir.

You astonished me with your command of what really succeeds on the internet. While most world leaders go on palavers of how their going to reduce national deficits, raise education standards, and promote green energy, you ask, “can you help me name my new puppy?” Nailed it, Vladimir. In addition, you promised to single-handedly read every single suggestion. Though you did not choose “Poochki” (which is what I offered), I admired your harnessing of social media stardom. How is Buffy doing, by the way?

putinbatmanMy personal favorite Putinism came a few years back whilst you were trolling diplomatic cables. You came across one which described you as ‘Batman’. In an interview with Larry King, what was your response to being compared to a superhero? “Slanderous!” you said. Not only did your political opponents find you more brute than the most awesomest superhero of all time, you found it offensive.Touché, Putin.

putinwaterYou held a special place in my heart, right up there with Chuck Norris and the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. You were a man’s man. Now, as the 2014 Winter Olympics are well underway, competitors are finding it difficult to find a clean glass of drinking water from your newly furnished faucets. I guess the old adage is true when traveling abroad (especially in Eastern Europe), “don’t drink the water”. What happened to the mythical beast that was Vladimir Putin, huh?

All puns aside, this leads me to my second point. I realize organizing an international event isn’t easy. I have to make four or five trips back into the house before I can officially leave for work in the morning, so I understand. Please don’t take my comments and criticisms too seriously; you’re still one of the most compelling world leaders of all time.

DDWlogo3In my ceaseless pondering, I’ve developed a solution to US and Russian relations, which I think may redeem your street-cred. I would like to graciously invite you to come see Van Wert Civic Theatre’s production of Woody Allen’s Broadway classic, Don’t Drink the Water, being performed March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23. This humble farce is about the cooperation and hostilities that have existed between our beloved homelands for generations. In your infinite wisdom, I am confident you will find VWCT’s production a welcome retreat to the media circus you have been experiencing as of late. Let us take the spotlight for a moment. Three free tickets to a world of entertainment await you, Vladimir (and two of your friends).

 If you’d like more information on our fourth show of the season, please visit http://vwct.org, “like” us on facebook, and or follow us Twitter and Pinterest. See you at the show!

Don’t Drink the Water | Cast Recipes

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Preheat the oven to 350* F. Line a 9×9-inch pan with foil and spray the foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Fry the bacon until it is crisp, turning often so it cooks evenly. Once crispy, remove the bacon from the pan and place it on a paper towel-lined plate to cool. Once cool, chop into small pieces.

Put the pretzels in a food processor and process them until they are fine crumbs. Combine the pretzel crumbs, melted butter, and sugar in a bowl and toss until the pretzels are moistening and the mixture has the texture of wet sand. Press it onto the bottom of the foil-lined pan in an even layer.

Sprinkle the chopped bacon on top of the pretzels in an even layer, then add the chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, and crushed potato chips. Pour the salted caramel sauce evenly over the entire pan.

Bake the bars at 350 for 20 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on the sides. Let them cool on a wire rack until they’re room temperature. To serve, lift the bars from the pan using the foil as handles, and cut into small squares. (They are easiest to cut when they are cold, but they taste best at room temperature.) If desired, sprinkle with a pinch of crushed potato chips just before serving.

 

Leaving ‘Avenue Q’

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I’m going to pull an Eeyore. Well, not quite an Eeyore; I’m happy, too. Van Wert Civic Theatre’s production of Avenue Q has closed its run.

The cute, adorable, and occasionally “naughty” puppets have all been put back in their storage containers, snuggled-in, awaiting Jerry Zimmerman to transport them back to their Kentucky home. I’ll chuckle as I remember Trekkie Monster “honking his horn” to online adult-entertainment, much to Kate Monster’s chagrin. I won’t soon forget Lucy the Slut’s provocative dance moves and her willingness to “make ya feel special.” I’ll cherish the saccharine-soaked dialogue of the Bad Idea Bears as they inspire, as if by magic, poor life choices.

I’ll be singing Christmas Eve’s, “The More You Ruv Someone” to my cat for weeks. I’ll applaud when an individual stands-up and owns his or her identity as Rod did.  When I put on my underwear in the morning, I’ll hum Brian’s song “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today” even though I’m definitely wearing underwear, today (January 27).  I’ll feel good every time I give to a worthy cause, because as Nicky says, “when you help others, you can’t help helping yourself.” I’ll hear Gary Coleman belting the lyrics to “Schadenfreude” and feel a tinge of joy when I see a person slip on the ice or when a waitress drops a tray of glasses.

I’ll remember, thanks to Princeton, that finding my purpose in life isn’t as important as just living it and learning from it. Avenue Q at Van Wert Civic Theatre had eight performances. The individuals involved had eight moments in which to showcase nearly two months of rehearsal and preparation. From the reeds and the drums to the actors and the puppets, Van Wert Civic Theatre would like to graciously thank all who were involved with Avenue Q, especially the audience members who endured the harsh winter elements to support the arts in Van Wert, Ohio; we applaud you.

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Each performance is only for now. But, as we strike the set and say goodbye to Avenue Q, we are also saying hello to Don’t Drink the Water by Woody Allen. A cascade of comedy and a solid hit on Broadway, this affair takes place inside an American embassy behind the Iron Curtain. An American tourist, a caterer by trade, and his wife and daughter rush into the embassy two steps ahead of the police who suspect them of spying and picture taking. It’s not much of a refuge, for the ambassador is absent and his son, now in charge, has been expelled from a dozen countries and the continent of Africa. Nevertheless, they carefully and frantically plot their escape.

Director Christopher Buturff has selected a comically competent troupe of VWCT veterans to bring this Woody Allen classic to life. The solid cast includes Perry Luhn as FATHER DROBNEY, Steve Bricker as AMBASSADOR MAGEE, Joe Maurer as MR. KILROY, Mac King as AXEL MAGEE, Amber Evans as MARION HOLLANDER, Steve Lane as WALTER HOLLANDER, Jenna Brunk as SUSAN HOLLANDER, Gene Craft as MR. BURNS, Doug Grooms as KROJACK, Monica Campbell as CHEF and SULTAN’S WIFE, Charlie Diefenbacher as the SULTAN OF BASHIR, and Lisa Eichler as COUNTESS BORDONI.

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Don’t Drink the Water by Woody Allen will be performed March 13th through the 23rd.

Thank you again to all those involved in creating and supporting live theatre here in Van Wert, Ohio. Without the dedication of volunteers and supporters, Van Wert Civic Theatre would not exist. Your commitment to the arts is invaluable.

For more information on our current or past productions, “like” us on facebook, follow us Twitter and Pinterest, and visit http://vwct.org

See you at the show!

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