Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Cast Mops Up Soggy Spots in "Water"

Cleveland Press October 17, 1967

What "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running" is all about is sex, that's what it's all about. And a lesser playwright than Robert Anderson and a lesser company than the one that opened at the Hanna last night would have turned it into a nightmare.

But Anderson, is a skilled man with words and the director and actors are skilled practitioners so that the evening comes off as a rather hilarious if somewhat attenuated and lengthy exploration of the subject.

If the subject offends you, better skip the show. Others will find it generally amusing and downright hilarious in spots.

THE SHOW CONSISTS of four playlets which are funny and dramatic and written with rare insight into human passions and foibles.

The first is about a serious playwright (Robert Elston) who would never use four-letter words in his plays but is determined to offer his audience a work in which an actor appears stark naked for a moment.

Called "The Shock of Recognition," it is the playlet which provides the show's title. The bit of action the writer is determined to preserve is one in which the leading man steps from the bathroom with only a toothbrush (and that held high) and announces to his wife: "You know I can't hear you when the water's running."

Beneath Anderson's joke is a commentary on much in the modern theater. The playwright in defense of his idea intones that " . . . it is about time our theater grew up."

THE REMAINING conversation between dedicated playwright and protesting producer is mostly a series of lines given to anatomical references.

None too soon there arrives an actor (Eddie Bracken) who is nervous and ridiculous in his obvious wig and over-size mustache who turns the sketch into one of high hilarity. Whatever they want he will be -- taller, shorter, fatter, skinnier, darker or lighter.

And when recognition comes as to what is really wanted he shrugs and is about to reveal all when the playwright flees, unwilling to face in life what he was so willing to put on paper.

THE SECOND, "The Footsteps of Doves," takes place in a bedding store. A.middle aged couple (Bracken and Ruth Manning) is shopping for twin beds.

She is shopping that is, while he extols the virtues of double-blessedness, all the while getting little aid from a swishy salesman (Elston) who couldn't care less.

The point of this sketch seems to be that romantic thoughts are great for the young but a nuisance as you grow older.

The third, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," makes most apparent the sadness that underlies at least three of the four sketches, leans more toward poignancy than comedy.

HUSBAND AND WIFE (Bracken and Miss Manning) argue about how much information to give their puberty bound youngsters. She is all for having their daughter ready for every eventuality and never mind hoping that she is wise enough to know better.

Dad holds out for old fashioned virtues and the notion that sex can still have the aura of romance and maybe even a little sniggering.

This sketch is the likeliest to offend audiences as the playwright clinically probes his subject with the intensity of a teenager discovering Freud and Kinsey at the same time.

THE FINAL PLAYLET, "I'm Herbert," has an oft married senile couple (Elston and Miss Manning) arguing about each other's names and romantic encounters hopelessly losing track of their identities in a "Who's on first" sort of routine.

It is a good 90-second gag stretched to several minutes

Bracken runs the entire gamut of parts beautifully -- from bumbling actor, to middle-aged man with a gleam in his eye and finally to one who is bitter and heart-broken, alone in a generation that thinks it knows better. He is a little of everything -- funny, tough and sad. And always believable.

Ruth Manning keeps pace wonderfully whether as a patient, long suffering wife, frustrated mother or fluttering old woman.

SUSAN BRACKEN breezes through several small parts, all of them different and immediately dispels any notion that she is on stage because her name is Bracken. She will make it whatever her name. She is talented and skillful.

Elston is one of those actors who slips in and out of different characters easily and believably. Jack Murdock is excellent as the producer.

Alan Schneider has directed the show with the sort of finesse that keeps it skating, along even when the ice is thinnest.