The Foreigner still pleases
VISTA, California–Larry Shue’s The Foreigner has been around for years. In fact the award winning comedy/farce first appeared on the scene in 1983 and has been going strong ever since. There was a time when it was produced by almost every theatre company here in San Diego over a period of years, then put to rest. It is currently being given a robust airing at The Avo Theatre in Vista as the first offering of Moonlight Theatre’s winter season and directed with TLC by producing artistic director Kathy Brombacher.
The story is pretty straight forward, kind of until it get so convoluted that you have to see it to appreciate it. The central character is a chap named Charlie Baker (Howard Bickle, Jr.). Charlie has some major social issues, the primary one being that he has a difficult time conversing with people. His contact with them is limited as Charlie is a proofreader of a science fiction magazine. He is in desperate need of a time out from his job and his wife whom he dearly loves, but who does not share his sentiments.
His friend S/Sgt Foggy LeSure (Charlie Riendeau) takes him from his native London to a rural fishing loge in the back woods of Georgia where the thought of having to talk with anyone puts Charlie in a tailspin almost to paralysis. The two friends hatch a plan to make sure Charlie doesn’t have to converse and still be able to relax with the good folks from Georgia. Foggy tells his friend, Betty Meeks (Dagmar K. Fields) the owner of the lodge that Charlie is from some far away exotic place and doesn’t speak or understand the English language. Now the stage is set for some pretty bizarre comings and goings.
You can just imagine how the good folks at the lodge took this intrusion by a complete stranger and a foreigner to boot! Over a short time we meet Catherine Simms (Aimee Nelson), an heiress and former Southern glamour girl, her slow witted brother Ellard (Ryan Hunter Lee) and her betrothed Reverend David Marshall Lee (Paul Morgavo) who regards Charlie with the suspicion of a serial murderer. They are all staying at the lodge.
Before long things take a turn toward the ‘normal’, if you will and everyone goes about his or her business with Charlie, who seems to be in the right place at all the right times, at the center of everyone’s conversations. He is also present when they discuss their most private and secretive plans. He overhears a conversation between Catherine and David that she is pregnant even though he assured her he was sterile.
He learns that the good Reverend David is in cahoots with the local county property inspector Owen Musser (Paul A. Canaletti, Jr.). They plan to wrangle Betty out of her property by devaluating it and buying it for a song (with Catherine’s money) and then turn it into a meeting place for the local KKK (Remember that group? They lynch Jews, Catholics and blacks as well as foreigners) that the reverend plans to head up. And so it goes, all the while Ellard is ‘teaching’ Charlie how to speak English by walking around the main lodge room and pointing to objects in exaggerated tones and with wild hand movements. Ellard becomes the teacher and Charlie the student, to everyone’s wide eyed amazement.
Most of the fun comes when Charlie, the terminally shy Brit, becomes this no holds barred physically energetic bag of wind willing to follow in Willard’s footsteps playing Simon Sez to make him look better in everyone’s eyes. It’s not until a bit later, after the shtick begins to wear off, that David becomes suspicious of Charlie and his antics that the play takes on another side, still funny but with more urgency. You guessed it though, ‘All’s well that end’s well”.
Shout out’s go to Howard Bickle, Jr. for masterminding his wonderful gibberish and peculiar sounding foreign accent and pulling it off with a straight face. It’s one thing to play dumb quite another to become a different personality speaking in pig Latin or tongues. Funny thing happened on the way to fixing everything Betty, Willard and Catherine seemed to understand just what he was saying when he decided to tell them all a story in his own farmished language. It brought the house down.
Another shout out to Ryan Hunter Lee who’s Ellard steals the show with his arm flailing, accent from another world speech patterns and prideful strut as he takes ownership in being Charlie’s mentor. It is a hoot to watch him.
Charlie Riendeau has just the right swagger and eyebrow arch look to know he’s somewhat perplexed but understands what’s going on and Aimee Nelson finally settles into the role of a sympathetic and understanding Catherine after a shaky start. Dagmar K. Fields is a riot as she shouts into Charlie’s ear hoping that what he doesn’t understand he will at least be able to hear, like he’s hearing impaired. She is consistent throughout.
Paul Morgavo is perfect as the slime ball reverend who cons his fiancée into thinking he loves her while keeping his hand on her purse strings. He’s suave and reassuring as the calm clergyman and brutally mean spirited as the KKK leader. As his helper and partner in crime Canaletti’s Owen is more of a threat to Charlie than anyone else as he threatens to get rid of him just like they plan to do to all the Jews and Catholics in the area. He is pretty menacing looking. And, oh! those white hoods wow! (Roslyn Lehman)
As soon as you enter the theatre N. Dixon Fishes set strikes you as a perfect retreat to vacation, hunt and or fish if that’s your thing. It’s set on two levels with rustic furniture set about the living room fireplace as well and a hand railing that looked like it was made of strong branches. Peter Hashagen’s sound design is realistic enough and Paul A. Canaletti, Jr.’s lighting splashes a range of beautiful days to fear filled nights.
If you like romps that keep your imagination in high gear, this is one that will tickle.
The Foreigner continues through Nov. 29 For more information visit www.moonlightstage.com.
See you at the theatre.
Davis is a San Diego-based theatre critic. Her email: firstname.lastname@example.org