BWW Reviews: Crown City Theatre Produces Rarely Seen FOREIGNER by Larry Shue
The Foreigner/by Larry Shue/directed by Joanne McGee/Crown City Theatre/through April 27
Larry Shue's career as playwright/actor fell far too short with his sudden death in 1985. He had written two howlingly funny farces The Nerd and The Foreigner, both of which have become cult classics. Each farce exposes an eclectic group of people to a mishmash of insanity. There is an underdog at the center who fakes his identity, and as a result of this switch in role-playing, the total chaos which arises bears unexpected fruit and a major miracle or two for one and all. Now onstage at Crown City Theatre in NoHo, a superb ensemble of actors bring off The Foreigner with tremendous skill and gusto.
It's Georgia, 1984. Froggy (David Ghilardi), a British soldier on maneuvers, brings his friend Charlie (Brian Graves) from England. Charlie is a sci-fi magazine editor and considers himself a bore. He is especially burdened right now as his wife, the love of his life, is cheating on him as well as in hospital, so he wants a quiet, no-talk rest. Froggy lies and tells Betty (Nan Tepper) who runs the fishing lodge where Charlie will be staying, that Charlie is a foreigner who does not speak any English. Charlie is reluctant to pull this off, but resigns, thinking no one will bother him. Wrong!!!!! Betty makes such a fuss over him with her mothering ways, and the others staying there Catherine (Kelly Huddleston), about to inherit her father's money and to marry David, a preacher (Jake Head), and Catherine's dim-witted brother Ellard (Adam Simon Krist) all take such a liking to Charlie, that there's no time for rest. Owen (Ian Patrick Williams) is a sort of sherrif of the town who hangs out at the lodge and is definitely up to no good, about to condemn Betty's property...and with Rev. David as an ally, the two, who are KKK members, are planning a takeover by their Invisible Empire.
No one knows the latter details, but Charlie, who overhears everything they say, but, remember, they speak freely as they think he cannot understand English. Charlie turns his boring existence inside out and becomes a superhero, as he rescues Catherine - saving her from David, and Betty from Owen. And he uses Ellard deliciously. The lad gets it into his head that maybe he can teach Charlie English. This whole process starts innocently enough at the dinner table with a few words and grows into an intense ESL course, that includes reading Shakespearean verse, crammed into a 24 hour period. Impossible goals that add to the comic madness! Any time a southerner tries to teach English, the pronunciation runs amok and that alone provides hilarity, let alone the fact that Ellard is not only southern but a half-wit, who supposedly does not have a clue as to what he is doing. The comedy here is genuine and very, very funny, some of the funniest moments I have seen onstage. When Charlie tells a story in his 'own language' to see if the others can understand, a makeshift Little Red Riding Hood becomes a laugh riot! (see photo below)
The entire cast make delectable character misfits and are having a ball with this romp. Tepper is so genuine as Betty that it is hard to catch her acting for a split second. Graves makes Charlie sparkle. At one moment he is inquisitively passive and the next a flamboyant storyteller who is savoring every moment of his campy odyssey. Krist is another very real actor, who for his age, is amazingly focused and fun to watch, as he creates a surprisingly sharp Ellard. Head as David does well in trying to keep an honorable facade to mask his true loyalties. Williams as mean man Owen has his finest hour in being scared out of his wits by the wildly crazed Charlie. Huddleston make Catherine likeable in her bewilderment over David's deceptions and her attraction to the very unusual Charlie. Ghilardi has fun in setting up the scene at the top and does his best to make the little seen Froggy as playful and memorable as possible.
Under Joanne McGee's loving and super skilled hand - she also designed the dingy yet homey lodge set, The Foreigner turns into a terribly funny play that really displays Shue's meticulous imaginative powers. His playfulness with language is also a treat. With this great cast to lead it forth, The Foreigner should go to the top of your must-see list.