“The Foreigner,” Larry Shue’s award-winning dark comedy now playing at Spotlighters Theatre, breaks no new ground, is full of stock characters and has no business being nearly as much fun as it is. But it is a giggle-fest from the get-go, and even the scary appearance of men in white robes and pointy hats is played ultimately for laughs.
Froggy and Charlie are a couple of blokes from Britain. Froggy is a munitions expert, sent to Georgia to some work for the American service. His best friend, Charlie, is dealing with a philandering wife who seems to be dying, but who nonetheless encourages Charlie to accompany Froggy on the trip. Charlie is desperately shy, and the two of them hit on a plan to pretend that Charlie speaks no English, ensuring that he won’t have to talk to anyone.
Betty, the owner of the resort/fishing lodge where Charlie will hole up while Froggy is off doing his work, is delighted to have a honest-to-goodness foreigner in her establishment and immediately tries to communicate by shouting in the poor guy’s face (as some Americans are wont to do.) Staying on the premises are Catherine, a wealthy heiress, and her less-than-bright brother, Ellard. Catherine, convinced Charlie can’t understand a word she’s saying, spills her deepest secrets to him, while Ellard sets about trying to teach the foreigner English. Also in the mix are Catherine’s boyfriend, the Rev. David Lee, and his racist buddy Owen, who is a property inspector by trade. Betty’s establishment is in danger of being condemned by Owen, who is secretly in cahoots with Rev. David to take over the lodge and turn it into a Ku Klux Klan hall. How Charlie saves the day is the climax of the action. Don’t ask – you wouldn’t believe it unless you see the show.
…it is a giggle-fest from the get-go…
Sherrione Brown is no stranger to accolades from me. I love this woman’s work and even with a low-brow piece like this one, she manages to turn the improbable action into a full evening of theatrical joy. Her sure-footed direction is evidenced by the quick pace and the clever staging of the show from start to finish, and her inspired casting choices have once again shown why she is one of the best directors in town.
Alan Zemla has done a terrific job of designing the lodge, complete with a ‘basement’ entered through a trap door and furnishings that include a full fireplace on the set. Brad Ranno’s lighting design is nicely done, though the timing of the cues could do with a little tweaking. The set goes to black at the end of scenes, but the lights come back on before the cast has a chance to exit, rather defeating the purpose of the blackout. Laura Nicholson and the cast have done well with costume choices that are exactly what one would expect to find in a Georgia fishing lodge.
Phil Gallagher’s Froggy is as British as tea and crumpets and just as satisfying. What makes this performance even more interesting is the fact that the last time I saw him, his accent was the perfect upper-class inflection of Professor Henry Higgins in “Pygmalion,” also helmed by Ms. Brown. This time out, he’s more Cockney and just as effective.
Randy Dalmas is as creepy a racist villain as I’ve seen lately. In an unforgiving role, Dalmas does a fine turn, doing everything except twist his mustache and flip a black cape as he blows around the stage like the wicked witch of the south, spreading his xenophobic venom. Hate the character, love the performer is a good thing in this case.
Paul Mancano as the duplicitous fiancé Rev. David Lee is self-possessed and quite believable. His sweet as pie demeanor when the ladies are present is bookended by his cross-burning secret life and Mr. Mancano keeps a foot in both camps while never losing his balance. He is as slippery as a catfish and just as dangerous.
Michael MacKay as Ellard is a lovable oaf, and Mr. MacKay plays the part for maximum laughs, though never at the expense of the character’s lack of immediately discernible intelligence. Ellard is no dummy and MacKay plays him with a childlike innocence that keeps the audience in his corner, rooting for him to win and prove just how capable he really is.
Kristin McMurry does a Georgia peach of a job playing Catherine. She’s country-strong, opinionated and selfish, but loves her little brother and longs for a different life than the choices she has prior to Charlie’s arrival. Miss McMurry is a skilled actress and her southern accent fairly drips with a combination of trailer park and gentile southern womanhood. She “fiddle dee dees” and “I’ll think about it tomorrow”s her way through the difficult situation in fine Scarlett O’Hara form.
Suzanne Young never fails to delight. I’ve been writing about this most talented actress for years in roles that span from Madame Arcati in “Blithe Spirit” to Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” She is another one who can put on an accent and wear it as comfortably as a pair of broken-in house slippers. Her Betty Meeks is a combination of southern resolve and optimism that things will get better because they just have to – she ain’t havin’ it any other way. A true pro and a welcome addition to any production.
The strength of the production rests squarely on the broad shoulders of Jason Braswell. I was not familiar with his work prior to this production and I’ll tell you, he was a bit of a sleeper in the first bits. I didn’t immediately realize that that was the character – not the actor. As the action unfolds the depth and breadth of the talent of this guy emerged until he was strutting about like he owned the stage and indeed, he did. Once Charlie’s tongue is loosened, there was no stopping him. And his comedy, from his rubber-faced expressions that showed every emotion the character experienced to his Chaplin-esqe physicality, was spot-on. A consummate entertainer in a role that suited him perfectly.
There are productions of “The Foreigner” that have been shut down due to the portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, to which I call BS. It’s a theatre. It’s a damn funny show, the klan idiots are on stage for about two minutes and they don’t come off well. Truth, justice and the right people win. So back off, PC police, and let this southern light shine. It’s not high drama, it’s just good ol’ country fun.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
“The Foreigner” runs through January 12th, at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 Saint Paul Street – Baltimore, MD 21202, 410-752-1225 for information. Click here for tickets.