Cold War ‘spies’ in Battle Mountain High play ‘Don’t Drink the Water’ |

Cold War ‘spies’ in Battle Mountain High play ‘Don’t Drink the Water’

Krista Driscoll
The cast of "Don't Drink the Water" rehearses at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards on Monday. Characters range from a bumbling American family trying to survive asylum in an Eastern European U.S. embassy to an aspiring magician priest who has spent several years in the same position.
Townsend Bessent | |

If you go …

What: “Don’t Drink the Water,” by Woody Allen, presented by the Battle Mountain High School Players.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5; Friday, Nov. 6; and Saturday, Nov 7.

Where: Battle Mountain High School auditorium, 151 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards.

Cost: $7 for students and $10 for adults at the door.

More information: Email director Kaylee Brennand at

Cast members

• Father Drobney — Dudley Ottley

• Ambassador Magee — Bret Pilkington, senior

• Miss Kilroy — Naomi Kuntz, junior

• Axel Magee — Blake Petersen, junior

• Marion Hollander — Berit Kirchner, sophomore

• Walter Hollander — Garvin van Dernoot, junior

• Susan Hollander — Anabel Johnson, senior

• Krojack — Eliot Hutchinson, sophomore

• Burns — Mollie McCoy, sophomore

• Chef — Luis Juarez, senior

• Sultan of Bashir — Aidan Woodworth, freshman

• Sultan’s wife — Carla Juarez, freshman

• Kasnar — Lindsay Foley, sophomore

• Countess Bordoni — Maddie McDougall, sophomore

• Soldiers, party guests — Lauren Reid, sophomore, and Genesis Rios, freshman

• Stage managers — Karen Munoz and Hannah Gersenoff

Dudley Ottley strides onto the Battle Mountain High School auditorium stage and, Bible in hand, introduces himself as Father Drobney, priest and narrator of the story that’s about to unfold. Behind him, the set is a stark mock-up of an American embassy in the Cold War era. Painted books line the shelves, and a single desk dominates the landscape.

After a few quips at his own expense, another character enters the scene behind Ottley. Dressed in a stately, dark suit, the second man is revealed to be Ambassador James F. Magee, head of the embassy, which lies somewhere to the east of the Iron Curtain.

“Each morning for the past four years, he enters this room, surveys the environment and graces us with his clarity and wisdom,” Drobney says of the ambassador, who peers toward the audience as if looking through a window.

“Jesus, look at all those Communists!” the ambassador exclaims.

The dry wit is indicative of the style of “Don’t Drink the Water,” a two-act comedy written by Woody Allen and presented by the Battle Mountain High School Players, with three performances: today, Friday and Saturday.

Plot thickens

As the story evolves, the ambassador, played by senior Bret Pilkington, is called away to America, leaving his son, Axel Magee, in charge. Axel has been hired and fired from numerous international posts, managing only to cobble together a few months at a time at each station, and the temporary appointment is a way for him to prove himself or be fired by his own father.

“His son isn’t particularly bright,” said junior Blake Petersen, who plays Axel. “He has good intentions, but he doesn’t quite execute them. … He’s very ambitious and well mannered, but he doesn’t think things through. He’s very impulsive, and as a result of that, he does some pretty stupid things that he didn’t see the consequences of.”

Axel stumbles through his responsibilities with the help of Miss Killroy, the ambassador’s efficient assistant, played by Battle Mountain junior Naomi Kuntz.

“She should clearly be in charge,” Kuntz said of her character. “She has the run over everything, she understands, she handles political affairs very well, and she’s essentially frustrated by Axel’s incompetence in government.”

What appears to be a straightforward assignment becomes complicated when gunshots ring out and a trio of bewildered, screaming American tourists come tumbling into the embassy. The local police, headed by sophomore Eliot Hutchinson in the role of Krojack, have mistaken the family for spies, and Axel’s bumbling attempts at communication only prove to make the matter worse.

The plot continues to unravel, and the personalities of each member of the tourist family and their reluctant compatriots are revealed as they are holed up in the embassy, with Axel trying to negotiate their safe return to the United States.

Character introductions

Director Kaylee Brennand said she didn’t cast students according to their personalities but, rather, by what they brought to their auditions. Despite that, each of the main cast members said they feel a certain kind of connection to their characters.

Senior Anabel Johnson plays the role of Susan Hollander, the 23-year-old daughter of Walter Hollander, played by junior Garvin van Dernoot, and Marion Hollander, a role staged by sophomore Berit Kirchner. The three comprise the family of tourists taking refuge in the embassy.

“She is kind of all over the place — she can’t stay still, she wants her life to be very exciting, and she’s adventurous, so when they get stuck in the embassy, she’s excited. She’s not necessarily scared or upset,” Johnson said of her character. “I think I relate to her in that she can’t stay still. She has to try new things all the time — that’s definitely me.”

“Walter Hollander is in his late 40s, and he is your stereotypical loud, obnoxious American tourist in a foreign country,” van Dernoot said. “He is very particular about what he wants and is not very happy when things don’t go his way or he doesn’t get what he wants, and he doesn’t really understand culture very much, and that doesn’t really work out for him too well, as he’s traveling Europe for culture.”

Like Walter, many of the characters in “Don’t Drink the Water” are egocentric and stubborn, which leads to a lot of confrontation and chaos within the play. Overall, the story is comedic — with a dash of romance as Axel and Susan become smitten with each other.

“There’s points where you have to pay attention really closely in order to get what’s funny about it, and there are times when everything is just so ridiculous that’s going on that you can’t help but laugh,” Kuntz said.

The story is suitable for all audiences, though some of the adult humor might go over the heads of younger patrons, Johnson said.

“I think it has a lot of relatable, comedic features, a very awkward romantic story, a very old married couple,” Kirchner said. “It’s very short and sweet and funny.”

Period piece

“Don’t Drink the Water” is a period piece, Brennand said, and the young actors learned as much about the Cold War era as they did about the logic behind terms such as upstage and downstage and the importance of studying their character notes.

“I remember the Cold War,” Brennand said, “and it’s been fun trying to teach the kids about the anachronisms that they don’t understand, that nobody had a cell phone, nobody had a wireless phone, the phone was attached to the desk and had a cord and you could only walk so far away from the desk.

“Teaching them about phones, teaching them about travel, telling them to look up who Dean Rusk was — it’s very much a history lesson within a show.”

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