Larry Shue’s The Foreigner has been convulsing audiences in laughter since it first opened in regional theatre in 1984 and then went on to a 686-performance run off Broadway. The show has become a perennial audience favorite ever since.
Set in “the recent past,”a hapless, painfully shy, socially inept Charlie Baker (David Lawrence) gets installed in a fishing lodge in the backwoods of Georgia by his good friend Staff Sergeant “Froggy” Le Sueur (Little Fish favorite Don Schlossman in an over-the-top performance), who goes off to a nearby army base to conduct an explosives training. Froggy, with his friend Charlie in a panic at the thought of being left among strangers, conspires to introduce him as a foreigner who neither speaks nor understands a word of English, thus relieving Charlie of the burden of conversation. It’s a ripe comic situation extraordinaire.
The lodge is run by Betty Meeks (Madeleine Drake) who fears losing her home. The county property inspector, Owen Musser (Gregg Lawrence), a rough-edged, ignorant, superstitious, bullying boob, threatens to condemn the place and turn her out. Add to the mix, the smarmy Reverend David Marshall Lee (Chance Dean), a closeted white supremacist, his brittle, just-become-pregnant fiancée, Catherine (Heather L. Tyler), and her brother, Ellard (Trip Langley), a young man special in oh-so-many ways, and you have a surefire recipe for hilarity.
In brilliant comic set pieces, playwright Shue gives all the characters moments to shine. Messrs. Lawrence and Langley make great gleeful fun out of a scene that has Ellard teaching English to Charlie. With a cunning ear, Charlie imitates Ellard’s Georgia drawl perfectly when, for example, Ellard says that the noun “fork” needs two syllables…“faw- werk.” A very rich comedic vein, indeed, and splendidly mined.
Ms. Tyler gives her post-debutante Catherine a fine character arc. First perceived as whiney, demanding and put-upon, she finds complexities in the role that allow her to reveal the root causes of her malaise — uncertainty of affection and bewilderment at her situation. Her push back against the rushing pressure of her fiancé leads to self-discovery and a satisfying liberation at close of show.
The Foreigner, deftly directed by David Graham, boasts excellent production values with a surprisingly spacious, impeccably dressed set by scenic designer Kaitlin Chang, and subtle, unobtrusive lighting by Shannon Barondeau. Elena Vannoni’s costumes are appropriate to time, place and character. And the sound design by director Graham adds fine moments of reality, and the incidental bluegrass music is perfect. Tara Donovan produces, and the stage is deftly managed by Jacob Severance.
Little Fish Theatre’s production of The Foreigner runs through July 15 at their playhouse in San Pedro’s Arts District at 777 S. Centre Street.