The Vagabond Players continues their highly entertaining 98th season with Larry Shue’s comedy, The Foreigner. And this Vagabond production, directed by Steve Goldklang, fits right in with their season as one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen produced on stage.
The Foreigner’s original opening night was November 1, 1984, and it has since won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards as Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production. In a 2004 revival, Matthew Broderick starred as the protagonist, Charlie Baker, to rave reviews.
…as I write this review, my face is still a bit sore from laughing so much.
Charlie Baker is the foreigner, an Englishman on an attempted vacation, who finds himself trapped in the Deep South; in a fishing lodge filled with people he has no desire to talk to. He fears most social situations because of the possibility of being forced to discuss his dying wife and the 23 or so other lovers in her life. Charlie’s old friend, Froggy, decides to tell the lodge owner, Betty Meeks, that Charlie is from a foreign country and cannot understand a word of English. Betty, who has never left the south, is excited to meet her first real foreigner and promises to take good care of Charlie – no English necessary. Throw in an heiress with a secret, a Reverend with a few secrets of his own, a “dim-witted” brother and a man who is a superstitious racist with ties to the Klu Klux Clan, and a seriously hilarious comedy is created.
This type of comedy, a farce, asks the audience to suspend common sense and realistic plot lines in exchange for fun physical humor and over-the-top characters. It also needs perfect comedic timing, energy and commitment from all the actors and precise guidance from the director. The Vagabond Players succeeds in each of these departments, and more.
Eric C. Stein embodies Charlie, a man so boring that his dying wife asks him to leave her bedside.. Watching Stein take Charlie from meek to heroic is a joy to watch. The growth in his character shows in every facial expression, body movement and nonsense word spoken, all of which inciting tremendous laughs from the audience.
Tavish Forsyth also excels as Ellard Simms, the dim-witted brother of the heiress, as a kind, well meaning boy who, with Charlie’s help, grows to be a self-confident, capable man.
But while each actor is exceptional in his or her role, they are absolute perfection as an ensemble, with such perfect timing and interactions that not a laugh, line or expression is missed: Carol Conley Evans as lodge owner Betty, the full-of-heart owner of the lodge; Ian Bonds as Froggy, Charlie’s well meaning friend; Amanda Gatewood as Catherine, the impatient heiress who grows to be calm and kind; David Shoemaker as Reverend Lee, Catherine’s love interest and not the man he appears to be; and Steven Shriner as Owen Musser, the mean racist who Charlie exposes.
As a reviewer, I tend to take more notes during shows that hold my attention less. Rest assured that during The Vagabond Player’s production of The Foreigner, I did not once open or even reach for my notebook. In fact, as I write this review, my face is still a bit sore from laughing so much. Don’t miss this show!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
The Foreigner runs through May 18, 2014 at The Vagabond Theatre, 806 Broadway in Fells Point. For tickets call the box office at 410-563-9135 or click here.