Nicholas W. McClellan
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 transform wood into rubber.

Yet, my grandma’s “oohs and aahs” were not because she thought I performed actual magic, she cheers because she likes 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 act, a purposeful “trick” with 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 in half or transforms 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 a United State’s embassy 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) has to escape from an Embassy of the United States without being killed by the Communist police who think their 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 the 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 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to make your reservations. For more information, visit