Ellard (Roman Garcia) and Charlie Barker (Jared Stephens) do a mirror pantomime.Photos: Allison Cornwell
Kaitlyn Jones as Catherine Simms and Brian Hodges as Rev. David Marshall Lee.
August 23, 2016
As with other theatrical farces, a
successful production of Larry Shue’s
The Foreigner (1984) requires
acceptance of several utterly
improbable plot lines. Would a shy,
socially inept Englishman leave his
supposedly dying wife to visit a
fishing lodge in the American deep
South that is filled with strangers
expecting him to be chatty and
interactive? Not bloody likely, but if
so, then you'd have to to agree with
his solution of pretending to be a
non-English-speaking foreigner who
Thanks to a solid, thoroughly
committed cast, deftly directed by
Ken Frazier and Dylan Brainard, the version now playing at the Sheldon Vexler Theatre keeps confusion to a minimum despite all the script's inanity. There are some darker aspects, as well, but – implausibilities aside – its overwhelming message is the value of empathy and understanding.
The scene is rural Georgia, where gregarious British Army sergeant “Froggy” LeSueur (charismatic Michael Burger) is presenting his annual three-day demolition training seminar to U.S. troops at a nearby post and has brought his buddy Charlie Baker to stay at a friend's fishing lodge. Charlie instantly regrets having come and is panicky until they hatch the “foreigner” plan. He is essentially treated like a potted plant who learns some amazing, often disturbing things while “eavesdropping,” but before long the others begin to confide in him. Jared Stevens uses a full arsenal of physical comedy to draw Charlie initially as wide-eyed and silent, but soon his confidence and social participation grow and blossom in a gradually building crescendo until – using a riotous made-up language – he becomes surprisingly cheerful and animated (not to mention fearsome at the play's climax).
Pivotal to the change is mentally challenged young Ellard Simms (Roman Garcia, in an expertly layered reading), who establishes a mutally beneficial connection with Charlie. At first they communicate through pantomime, then by Ellard's teaching him English words that are heavy on Southern diphthongs.
Whitney Marlett is especially funny as the lodge's grandmotherly owner, Betty, who has never traveled and is enchanted with the notion of a strange visitor. She insists on shouting at him in a tinny drawl as if that would help with his comprehension. She is equally effective in serious moments as she reveals her fears and concerns for the future.
Kaitlyn Jones is bitchy but ultimately sympathetic as Ellard's sister, Catherine. She is an heiress who lived a debutante's high life until she became engaged to a minister and moved away from the city. Needing a confidant, she tells her secrets to Charlie, but it turns out that he has heard something about her conniving fiancé that she never suspected. Brian Hodges is credible as that hateful slimeball, Rev. David Lee, who is plotting to buy the lodge with Catherine's money and set up the return of the KKK.
The sleazy minister is in cahoots with Owen Musser (creepily convincing Joshua Goldberg), a bigoted redneck bent on seeing that the lodge is condemned, and thus dirt cheap. He exults in the prospect of the Invisible Empire eliminating all manner of “objectionable” persons, including foreigners, from Georgia and beyond.
Despite all the play's absurdities, it is hard to resist cheering at the finale when Charlie spearheads an ingenious means of foiling a menacing bunch of white-robed Klansmen.
Mr. Frazier's impressive, richly detailed set features log walls, a cast iron stove compete with inner “fire” and all manner of fishing-related gear and wall decorations. Chad Miller's sound design is excellent, especially the lengthy, realistic thunderstorm.
Sadly, 39 year-old Larry Shue was killed in an airplane accident in 1985. He left a mere handful of plays including “The Nerd,” but this is by far his most popular. So just suspend disbelief, accept its incongruities and go along for the wild and crazy ride.
The Foreigner runs Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 11
in the Sheldon Vexler Theatre at the Jewish Community Center.
Sheldon Vexler Theatre: The Foreigner
Farce that (maybe) isn’t about the election