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The Foreigner

a Comedy
by Larry Shue

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Roswell Cultural Arts Center
ID# 4234

SHOWING : February 23, 2012 - March 11, 2012



Charlie's shyness renders him helpless in conversation - so when a friend covers for him by telling the other guests in a rural Georgia mountain lodge that he is an exotic foreigner and speaks no English, Charlie ends up hearing more - MUCH more - than he should - and the hilarity begins!

Director James Donadio
Charlie Baker Hugh Adams
Betty Meeks Nita Hardy
Rev. David Marshall Lee Jonathan MacQueen
Ellard Simms Bryan Mercer
Catherine Simms Tracy Moore
Froggy LeSueur John Stephens
Owen Musser Scott Warren
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Blasny Blasny Blah Blah Blah
by Dedalus
Monday, March 19, 2012
Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” is one of those “guilty pleasure” Regional/Community Theatre staples that can always be relied on to fill houses and please subscribers. It is a lot funnier than it should be, given that most of its humor depends on cultural stereotypes and characters being dumber than rock-boxes. And it is fairly “production-proof” – even badly acted and directed stagings can be winning and enjoyable.

Fortunately, Georgia Ensembles new production is anything but badly-acted and directed. An ensemble of marvelous actors wanders around David Manuel’s marvelous two-story set while James Donadio’s marvelous direction keeps the pace jumpy and swift.

For the none of you who have never encountered this play, here’s a recap – Charlie Baker, a neurotically shy man on the rebound from a bad marriage to a dying wife has come to a Georgia bed-and-breakfast. His best friend Froggy LeSueur (and with a name like that, you know the late Larry Shue’s forte is not subtlety) is friends with the owner, a gamely spunky Betty Meeks. To avoid having to talk to anyone, Charlie pretends to be a foreigner who doesn’t understand English. “Anyone” is, of course, the other B&B guests – winsome ex-debutante Catherine, her simple brother Ellard, her fiancé the Reverend David Marshall Lee, and Owen Musser, a local bigot and thug.

Of course, because they think he doesn’t understand them, everyone is soon confiding in Charlie, projecting on him a character that he never had in his former life. Faster than you can concoct a language filled with nonsense words, Charlie is a local hero (or pariah), nefarious plots are laid bare for the world to see, and the “good guys” are quickly mounting a really dim-witted defense against the Klan.

Sure, only a numbskull would hear Charlie’s made-up language and believe it to be real, and sure, the plot depends on everyone being (in one way or another), a dimwit. Sure, all the Southern characters wallow in stereotype and shallowness. But, truth to tell, the stereotypes are so blatant that they seem exaggerated, becoming funnier (and more acceptable) each time I see this show.

It doesn’t hurt that Hugh Adams is such a warm and winning Charlie. Even his opening “boring man” scenes come across as charming. He has such an open and honest face that we can’t help but warm to him, even in the cavernous G.E.T. Roswell house. Although the other characters don’t offer many opportunities to go beyond the stereotypes, the efforts of John Stephens (Froggy), Nita Hardy (Betty), Jonathan MacQueen (Reverend David), Tracy Vaden Moore (Catherine), Scot Warren (Owen), and especially Bryan Mercer (Ellard) seem effortless and almost sublime.

As I said above, David Manuel has built a terribly attractive set that combines log-cabin rusticity with Cathedral ceiling elegance. Chuck Tedder’s lights add to the hominess of the look – this is a B&B I’d like to visit -- and all the technical birds come home to roost in the very silly “Bees Come Down” climax, which really can’t be described without sounding, well, very silly.

But, let’s not be too quick to dismiss this script. Mr. Shue’s dialogue – even the made-up words – snaps and jangles with life, gives the characters aspects that transcend their “type” and is truly a joy to hear, and, let me be honest, to laugh with. The plot is constructed like an elegant watchwork, with casual toss-off lines foreshadowing important “stuff to come.” Although the characters are stereotypes, they occasionally surprise, and, in the hands of a talented cast like this, they charm (even when being pretty charmless).

Yes, I sometimes feel guilty when I laugh at the antics that accompany any production of this perennial house-filler..

But, still, I laugh, indeed, I laugh.

And, sometimes, that’s all that’s necessary!

Blasny Blasny!

-- Brad Rudy (BK

This Property Is NOT Condemned
by playgoer
Saturday, March 10, 2012
"The Foreigner" is one of my favorite plays. Georgia Ensemble Theatre is giving it an enjoyable production, but not one for the ages. A welter of rugs cover the floor; a scattering of pictures and items cover the walls willynilly. This slapdash approach seems to affect the overall production.

Ages of the cast members aren't quite right. Catherine's younger brother is twice her age. Froggy and Betty are too much of the same age, allowing a hint of possible romance to muddle their relationship. (It's quite a different thing when a blustery younger man compliments Betty than when an older man does.) Owen and David are much of an age too, with Jonathan MacQueen's Reverend David not having enough authority to convincingly hold power over Scott Warren's Owen Musser.

When I learned that Scott Warren was in this production, I first pictured him as the half-wit Ellard. I could see him as Froggy too, or as David, or even as Charlie (the "foreigner"). Here, he plays the bigoted, superstitious, small-minded Owen Musser. As always, he brings great stage presence and energy to his role. For me, he was the highlight of the show.

No one gives a bad performance; these are pros, after all. Nita Hardy has a lumbering way of walking that works for her independent-minded, girlish innkeeper of a certain age. John Stephens works at his bluster, giving Froggy a sort of subdued energy. Tracy Vaden Moore convinces as former deb Catherine Sims, and Bryan Mercer is entirely charming as her brother Ellard. These actors keep the show moving along.

Hugh Adams, as Charlie Baker, plays both sides of his character tremendously well -- he charms as the soft-spoken, emotionally vulnerable Englishman Charlie is in reality, and dazzles as the suddenly loquacious "foreigner" bringing joy to all those around him. His porcine, malleable face hits all the right notes of sadness and glee that the script requires. I only wish he had made a longer transition from shyness to unadulterated mugging in his "raconteur" phase. He's a wonderful physical comedian, but Charlie probably wouldn't be quite so much off the bat. Part of the delight of that scene is seeing Charlie gain confidence and become a full human being. Here, the confidence seems gained too quickly.

The set by David Manuel is a large log cabin that works well for Georgia Ensemble's stage, but is probably more spacious than it needs to be. Chairs abound left and right and up center, allowing lots of playing areas. There's even a cellar door opening in front of the stage that adds to the charm of the setting. Windows upstage show branches of nearby trees, giving a hint of the bucolic setting, but give no hint of the nearby lake. Lighting, by Chuck Tedder, is more ambitious than the show needs, starting out with storm effects through the upstage windows and adding flickers when one particular lamp is lit. Sound effects by Jason Polhemus were also a bit ambitious for the show. I disliked most of the music used at scene starts, finding the mish-mash of styles bewildering.

"The Foreigner" has been gussied up by Georgia Ensemble Theatre with an oversized set, frequent lighting and sound effects, and a costume plot that kept designer Jim Alford busy. The play itself, though, doesn't need all this extraneous sparkle. It's a strong, amusing story, and the performances should be allowed to shine through. I think I would have preferred something simpler and more heartfelt. Still, all in all, this is a fine production that anyone who hasn't seen "The Foreigner" should welcome as an introduction to Larry Shue's comic masterpiece.


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