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The Foreigner is a show full of superb comedy and acting!

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The Foreigner

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THE FOREIGNER
by Larry Shue

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Frisco Community Theatre

Direction by Paula Coco
Stage Management by Suzanna Stanley
Scenic Design by Chris Berthelot and Paula Coco
Lighting Design by Joe Nagel
Costume and Properties Design by Deborah Jaskolka
Diction and Dialect Coaching by Yvonne Vautier-DeLay

CAST (in order of appearance)

Mike Spitters as “Froggy” LeSueur
Billy Betsill as Charlie Baker
Mary Tiner as Betty Meeks
Bryan Hasley as Rev. David Marshall Lee
Shelly Ohmes as Catherine Simms
Chris Berthelot as Owen Musser
Jason Scott as Ellard Simms
Carrie Campbell, Beth Cooper, and Kris Kahle as The Townspeople

Reviewed by Richard Blake

Be prepared for a show full of superb comedy, acting, and even a lesson in humanity with Frisco Community Theatre’s production of The Foreigner!

Set in a fishing lodge in rural Georgia, the comedy revolves around two of its guests, Charlie Baker and Englishman “Froggy” LeSueur. Charlie is so pathologically shy that he is unable to speak. As way of explanation, Froggy claims his companion is the native of an exotic country who does not understand a word of English. Before long, Charlie finds himself privy to assorted secrets and scandals freely discussed in front of him by the other visitors. These include spoiled Southern belle Catherine Simms, Rev. David Lee, her fiancé and a seemingly humble preacher with a dark underside, her younger brother Ellard, a simpleton who attempts to teach Charlie English, and Owen Musser, the racist county property inspector who plans to oust property owner Betty Meeks and convert the lodge into a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan.

Following its premiere in Milwaukee, the play, directed by Jerry Zaks, opened on November 1, 1984 at New York City's Astor Place Theatre where it ran for 686 performances. The opening night cast included the playwright Larry Shue, Anthony Heald, and Patricia Kalember. It eventually won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards including Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production. Sadly, Shue would be killed in a plane crash the following year, not living to see the continued popularity of The Foreigner. To this day, the play has been revived a great many times, from high school to the professional level.

The play is presented in the Black Box Theatre of the wonderfully unique Frisco Discovery Center. Seating about 120 patrons on three sides of the performance space, the venue literally puts you right in the action. Is this a problem? Absolutely not. In fact, it allows you to see the actors’ wonderful facial expressions, hear some of the funniest line deliveries I’ve heard in a long time, and thoroughly immerse you in the superb acting this production offers.

Direction by Paula Coco is exciting, precise and right on the money. She uses the space well, creating intimate moments focusing on a few characters and full stage action with the entire ensemble. I thoroughly enjoyed her usages of the three primary action areas, the living area, dining area, and front counter/door area. It was also refreshing to see conversations blocked “naturally” as if in real life. The space allows for it perfectly and Ms. Coco takes full advantage of it. The character development with her actors is also very well done, each being very distinct and all their own. When a director can get the audience to react naturally to a character on stage, she/he has done their job perfectly. Congratulations on a job well done, Ms. Coco.

Coco partnered with Chris Berthelot in the simply designed set. Utilizing the main floor space for most of the action, and a raised level leading upstage to the other rooms of the lodge, is perfect for this theatre. I loved some of the attention paid to detail, such as the dining room table with subtly mismatched chairs and the overstuffed sofa, which set the perfect feeling for this Georgia lodge. Everything is constructed well, sets the scene, and allows the actors to have great flow and movement throughout the performance.

Joe Nagel’s lighting design is simple yet perfectly suited for the production. He uses some wonderfully rich amber’s and blues for back and side lighting which also accent the basic stage washes. There are some very nice touches that establish day/night scenes with backlight flooding through the large window upstage and through the front door of the lodge. I was especially impressed with the lighting for the “blackout” caused by the impending attack, and Nagel’s use of the instruments on hand, in conjunction with hand-held LED lanterns brought in by the cast, is executed without flaw. This is one of the best designs for a community theatre production I’ve seen in a long time.

Costume and properties design by Deborah Jaskolka are done well. Lovely clothing details in every scene abound and add great dimension to the overall production quality. From Charlie’s bow ties to Ellard’s overalls, every design is wonderfully developed and executed. Jaskolka deserves very high praise for her work as Properties Mistress as well. Her use of real food for the meals, of which you could actually see steam rising, and wonderful items like real miniature coke bottles the cast drinks from and headlined newspapers and magazines, show that even the smallest of props had great attention to detail paid to them.

The highest of praise has to be given to Yvonne Vautier-DeLay for her evident hard work with the cast concerning diction and accents. It is a true pleasure to hear believable Georgian accents, only highlighted by very believable British accents. I’ve seen this show many times, with and without accents, and the script screams for GOOD accents to be used. It is obvious her cast worked hard and studied very closely. Brava on an exemplary aspect of keeping true to an Author’s intention!

This show is cast perfectly. Every actor in every role is wonderful to watch and conveys this story with ease and great artistry.

Billy Betsill as Charlie Baker carries this show in true professional style. In almost every scene, he has a lot of dialogue as well as enormous comedic scenes to pull off, and WOW, Mr. Betsill does that and so much more. His timing is perfect, facial expressions are wonderful and acting technique is off the charts. It is a true pleasure to watch him shine in this role.

“Froggy” LeSueur, played by Mike Spitters, brings a lovely, comedic-driven professionalism to the role. You are never disengaged while he is on stage and he has just the right amount of moxie the moment he enters.

Mary Tiner, in the role of Betty Meeks delivers some of the funniest lines in the show, straight-faced and all smiles. Every moment she is on stage, Ms. Tiner is engaging, wonderful to watch, all while adding her own special touches to an already exceptional woman’s role.

Catherine Simms, played by Shelley Ohmes is another stand-out performer in the show. She interpreted the role well and presents it with a beautiful arc in character, displayed not only in her expressions but in body language. Watching her go from an irritated, slightly overbearing woman on the edge to a kinder soul with compassion is a pleasure to behold.

Rev. David Marshall Lee is played by Bryan Hasley with a commanding force when he is on stage. He draws you into his character, allows you to feel his confusion and his underhanded motives with the ease of a seasoned actor much more his senior. His performance is entertaining and never once detours from the author’s written character intention.

Jason Scott as Ellard Simms is remarkable in this production. There is never a moment of apathy or confusion with his character. Scott gives his role a unique twist and it works splendidly. This role can be taken too far and over-the-top, but Mr. Scott holds a perfect balance of high energy and subtle perceptions I have never seen before. Yes, there are some outrageous moments that are scripted, and when those do come up, prepare yourself for a wild, side-splitting display of true comedic timing and splendid acting!

Chris Berthelot playing Owen Musser shines on stage as well in a very difficult role. Playing a viscerally disliked character, the tendency is for the audience to hate the actor instantly. Mr. Berthelot presents his character in the finest of fashion and lets the story make you hate the character, not the actor. He presents a truly wonderful performance.

It is very clear the cast and creative team were up to the task in presenting a wonderful product on stage. As I mentioned, I’ve seen this production quite a few times and I have to say it’s at the top of my list as the overall best performed!

Take the time to see this Frisco Community Theatre’s The Foreigner to be highly entertained and, at the same time, learn a little about morality from the storyline.

Richard S. Blake
www.richardsblake.com
www.facebook.com/officialrichardslake
www.twitter.com/richardsblaketx

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