Coronado, CA---Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” winner of two Obie Awards, Best American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production, is a farce in every sense of the word. It takes no prisoners, and for our ‘now’ standards it is very politically incorrect. But back in 1984, not so much. When the play first opened playwright Shue was one of the original cast members.
Most likely some or the entire seasoned ensemble in Lamb’s Players Theatre’s over the top production (through March 9th) weren’t even born when the show premiered Off-Broadway. Now sixty years later and with our country still fighting over the same issues, director Kerry Meads has assembled a top notch ensemble to pull off Shue’s comedy; in particular the sly and calculating Geno Carr as Charlie Baker, the driver of this convoy.
The plot line is an ideal setup for ‘the perfect storm’. Charlie, who considers himself to be boring and shy to a fault (he’s been a proofreader for a Sci Fi magazine for over 20 years) is plucked up from his bedside vigil for his ailing wife somewhere in England and dropped down in the back hills of rural county, Tilghman, County, Georgia (to be exact) for some much needed R&R, according to his best friend Froggy.
British S/Sgt. Froggy LeSeuer is on a military assignment as guest instructor telling stories to the new recruits about ‘the bomb squad’. He carries around some sort of contraption that is supposed to be the next best thing to white bread. His base is also somewhere in Georgia about an hour or two away.
Froggy has a dear friend living in Tilghman that he visits when he comes back the states on assignment. She has a fishing lodge (credit Michael McKeon for the detailed lodge setting and the giant Marlin hanging over the fireplace) that’s pretty isolated and away from anything familiar. He thinks it’s a perfect spot for Charlie where he will be able to get some much-needed rest. Because Charlie is so paranoid about his lack of social skills, he’s not convinced. He begs Froggy to take him along back to the military post with him.
Froggy comes up with a plan to quell Charlie’s nerves; one that he thinks will keep him at bay from any annoying questions that he might have to answer. The owner of the lodge, Betty Meeks is told by Froggy that Charlie comes from some exotic country and does not speak or understand much English; he’s a true blue foreigner “as foreign as the day is long”. “He’ll be no trouble. Regular meals, spot ‘o tea once in a while.
Carr’s splendid tour de force performance of Charlie is as edgy as it is funny. While wanting to be as far away from the madding crowd as possible, it’s that very behavior that finds him right in the center of all the comings and goings, for better or worse, that sets into motion the good the bad and the ugly motives of those living in and outside the lodge. Some even going so far as wanting to take the lodge from Betty by any means possible. And that’s where Charlie comes in.
Some pretty underhanded shenanigans are going on right underneath Betty (Myra McWethy) and Charlie’s nose. Because Charlie’s presence is everywhere and everyone pretty much ignores him, he is privy to any and all conversations. Betty, on the other hand, is so busy making Charlie happy (and shouting at him hoping he will understand her better) that she doesn’t suspect any foul play.
The inner circle at the lodge include the wealthy (soon to inherit a truckload of money) Catherine Simms (Nancy Snow Carr) her fiancé Rev. David Marshall Lee (Brent Schindele) and Catherine’s slow witted brother Ellard (Kevin Hafso Koppman). Outside their little circle Owen Musser (Stacey Allen), the county property inspector, is threatening to condemn the lodge so that David can buy it from Betty at a bargain price and the two can use the property to ‘reunite the Georgia Empire’. (Read KKK) Of course much depends on David marrying Catherine and Ellard being left out of the equation.
But this is all window dressing. When Charlie hears more than he should about what David and Owen are planning he decides to take the fast track to learning English and chooses Ellard to be his teacher.
The real fun comes in when Ellard is teaching Charlie some of the fundamentals of the language while at the dinner table. In one of the funnier scenes Charlie mirrors Ellard raising forks (fo ark as Ellard teaches Charlie what the instrument is called) and balancing juice glasses on their heads. In another Charlie, in his own inimitable mumbo jumbo language retells the story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
But the fun turns dark when Musser, a muscular knife wielding rebel and not quite as taken with Charlie as the others, turns on him and threatens him within an inch of his life. We also find out that the good Reverend is a sleaze ball and in cahoots with Musser and can’t wait to get his hands on Catherine’s money.
As mentioned earlier, Carr’s performance is right on target. His facial expressions and body language tell it all as he struggles to communicate with both the English language and his own set of foreign language made up words. He goes above and beyond on both counts walking a fine line as both the foreigner and, in the end, their savior. Both he and Hafso-Koppman, who enthusiastically takes on Ellard as his own, play beautifully off one another.
Stacey Allen is a scary as he can be as the bully and KKK leader Owen Musser, Myra McWethy is a natural as Betty. She’s all over Charlie, but in a loving and motherly way. Watching her cater and convincing herself that she really understands him is a hoot. Chris O’Bryon is perfect as Froggy and Brent Schindele is as slimy as he is supposed to be. Nancy Snow Carr is a perfect balance with her sweetness and innocence.
Mike Buckley’s easy to maneuver replica of a rural fishing lodge is another feather in his cap. Juliet Czoka and Jemima Dutra’s costumes, Nathan Peirson’s lighting, Jon Lorenz’s explosive sounds and Meads thoughtful direction give this somewhat outdated play the feel that Shue’s message of bigotry, racism and homophobia, while exaggerated to a fault, still resonates. And so it does.
It’s fun. It’s goofy. It’s thought provoking.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 9th
Organization: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Production Type: Farce
Where: 1142 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$62.00
Venue: Lamb’s Players Theatre