In an unnamed European country behind the Iron Curtain, the American Ambassador must leave the Embassy for business. In his absence he places his incompetent son Axel Magee in charge. Almost immediately the Embassy is thrust into a crisis as the Hollanders, an American family of tourists, come rushing in on the run from the Communist police. Walter, the father, had accidentally snuck into a high security area and taken pictures, causing the Communists to believe the family are spies. Axel digs the hole deeper and the embassy is surrounded, leaving the Hollanders trapped.
Adapted into a 1969 feature film, directed by Howard Morris and starring Jackie Gleason as Walter, Estelle Parsons as Marion, Ted Bessell as Axel, Joan Delaney as Susan, and Richard Libertini as Father Drobney; and a 1994 Made-for-TV Movie starring Allen as Walter, Julie Kavner as Marion, Michael J. Fox as Axel, Mayim Bialik as Susan, and Dom De Luise as Father Drobney.
The main characters are:
- Axel Magee - An American foreign diplomat who only went into the business due to his father rather than his actual talent in art. He has a tendency to ramble, especially when nervous. He falls in love with Susan during the play.
- Walter Hollander - A caterer from Newark, New Jersey. He is married to Marion and is the father of Susan and Seth. He causes his family to become trapped in the American embassy after he takes pictures of a high security area. He is very loud and abrasive but he can be kind when he wants to.
- Marion Hollander - Walter's homemaker wife and the mother of Susan and Seth, she too is somewhat inappropriate but she's much kinder then Walter.
- Susan Hollander - Walter and Marion's beautiful daughter who falls in love with Axel.
- Father Drobney - A priest hiding out in the embassy for 6 years with a love of magic tricks. He is the narrator of the play.
- Kilroy - Ambassador Magee's stuck-up assistant who is much more competent at his job than Axel.
- Krojack - The head of the Communist police who traps the Hollanders in the embassy.
- Burns - An assistant working at the embassy.
- Ambassador Magee - Axel's father who is the ambassador of the unnamed country and the head of the embassy.
- Chef - The embassy's chef, who consistently butts heads with Walter.
This work provides examples of:
- Ambiguously Jewish: The Hollanders, Walter and Marion are almost stereotypical with their traits but Susan is barely noticeable.
- "Ass" in Ambassador: Subverted. Kilroy and Axel's father are awful people but they are wonderful at their jobs.
- Author Avatar: Both Walter and Axel have similarities to Woody Allen.
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Walter and Marion have one of these moments in Act II after constant bickering.
- Book Ends: The play both starts and ends with Father Drobney breaking the fourth wall and discussing the characters to the audience.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Father Drobney does this several time, directly addressing the audience and delivering exposition
- Chew Toy: Kilroy, to the point that there is a Running Gag of him getting horribly injured.
- Dating What Daddy Hates: With the exception of Donald, Walter is not pleased with the men that Susan has been involved with.
- Diplomatic Impunity: Axel has this and is able to save Susan by marrying her and ensuring her the same immunity.
- Disposable Fiancé: Donald, a respectable lawyer back home in New Jersey. He and Susan are due to be married the following week. However, Susan finds him dull and has been developing cold feet.
- Elopement: At the end of the play Father Drobney performs an impromptu wedding ceremony for Axel and Susan.
- Endearingly Dorky: Despite (or maybe due to) Axels clumsy incompetence, Susan falls madly in love with him over the space of a few days.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Walter and Marion's second child, Seth. Also, Susan's fiance Donald.
- In the Jackie Gleason version both are seen in a pre credit sequence: Seth being Put on a Bus to camp, and Donald seeing the Hollanders off at the airport.
- Mr. Exposition: For the first Act Kilroy is practically all exposition and no humour, in the second Act he has a far more comedic role and his role of delivering the exposition to the main characters is given to Father Drobney.
- Nepotism: The only reason Axel has his job at the Embassy, let alone a position of power, is because his father is in charge.
- Odd Name Out: A small example, Walter is the only Hollander without a name of Hebrew origin.
- Poor Communication Kills: Axel is completely unable to articulate to Krojack that the Hollanders are not spies and, in fact, makes the situation worse. Kilroy manages to fix the problem in no time flat, other circumstances (mainly Walter) are the only things that keep his plan from working.
- Run for the Border: The elaborate plan for the Hollanders to escape. It fails the second they step out of the door. In the end, Walter and Marion are able to escape via this route and disguising their identities.
- Ruritania: The unnamed Communist country in which the embassy is situated.
- Skewed Priorities: Walter is adamant about leaving the country as quickly as possible: Susan and Donald are due to be married the following week and he doesn't want to lose his deposit on the wedding venue.
- The Oner: The 1994 version has many long shots, possibly because of the origins of being a stage play.
- "Ugly American" Stereotype: Walter is loud, self-important, and is openly disdainful of the local cuisine.
- White Sheep: Susan is polite and friendly, as opposed to her rather rude and loud parents.