Nicholas W. McClellan
Nicholas W. McClellan

“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.”

“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.

“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 (starring 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 inquire. 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.”

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 rife 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 Kyogen 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.

Our 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 information.

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).