The Sultan (Kyle Marr) talks to Walter Hollander (Joe Schmidt) in the Studio Players rehearsal Woody Allen’s comedy “Don’t Drink The Water” Friday night, Jan. 5, for their production running January 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27. Showtimes on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays is at 8 p.m; Sundays at 3 p.m.
ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

‘Don’t Drink the Water’
By Woody Allen

Jan. 12-27
Studio Playhouse, 14 Alvin Place
studioplayhouse.org, 973-744-9752

By STEFANIE SEARS and GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

In Studio Players’ production of Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” set in the 1960s, a vacationing New Jersey caterer and his family face quite an ordeal. Among the cast is an actor who plays a communist guard as well as a sultan.

So far, so ordinary, for an Allen political comedy.

Less ordinary: the actor playing the roles is a member of the U.S. military.

Montclair resident Kyle Marr joined the U.S. Army in 2010 at age 21, now holds the rank of first lieutenant, and is serving in the New Jersey National Guard as an operations plans officer.

“He kind of is a caricature of the world,” Marr said about his role of the Sultan of Bashir, “I take my interest in history and cultural learning from the military. I would say it is definitely something considered.”

The contradiction is less ironic than it might appear: for the Montclair actor making his Studio Players debut, acting and serving are both related to wanting to understand.

“The whole concept of the Iron Curtain is gone now that there are only six communist states left in the world and none of them are in Europe,” Marr said in an email. “The climate of the world is way different. There are some lines in the play about th

e bomb, which during the ’60s was a relatively new thing to be concerned about in the world when this play was written. Seeing what is now the history of it all is interesting to me.”

THE PAST AND THE PRESENT

During one of the final rehearsals before opening night on Jan. 12, the cast experimented with quick changes for the first time. Director Helen Exel sat beside costume designer Pat LaRocco, as they consulted each other about final adjustments.

Like Marr, she found the 52-year-old comedy relevant today.

HELEN EXEL

“Russia is now in the news so much,” she said by phone. “If this was done three years ago, it wouldn’t be as comparable. Now it’s Russia, Russia, Russia.”

Lead couple Walter and Marion Hollander mirror Archie and Edith Bunker from Norman Lear’s 1970s sitcom “All in the Family,” which was one of the first sitcoms to acknowledge controversial issues previously considered inappropriate for U.S. television. In the 1966 play, the vacationing Hollanders (Joe Schmidt and Donna Frassinet) and their betrothed daughter Susan (Emily Miller) stumble upon the American Embassy of an unnamed Eastern European country behind the Iron Curtain. Because the head of the secret police (John Fraissinet) caught them taking photos in a secure area, they are accused of being spies and seek refuge in the Embassy, where they are trapped for the remainder of the play.

As the Soviet guard, Marr’s character tries to intimidate the Hollanders. As the sultan, he demands their respect.

The play was filmed twice. The 1969 version starred Jackie Gleason as Walter and Estelle Parsons as Marion, and the 1994 version starred Allen as Walter. Exel’s approach is to slow the comedy down. That way, the director said, the humor is more subtle than slapstick.

LIFE AND THEATER

Exel didn’t know Marr was in the service when she cast him, but enjoys the irony of an American hero playing these roles.

Marr, who has had to miss some rehearsals to serve, said he caught the acting bug at an early age after watching Harrison Ford.  He has also co-written and acted in his own work, and in college was often asked to act in others’ films and shows. But he’s had a hiatus: his last role was in 2009 when he portrayed Tom in “The Glass Menagerie” in Glassboro.

And he’s noticed that theater and the military share some traits: “One thing they have in common is that there are a bunch of people with different backgrounds trying to reach a common goal.”

The Sultan (Kyle Marr) demands respect. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL