BWW Reviews: THE FOREIGNER at Village Packs the Laughs with Intelligence
It's a show that's done by pretty much everyone and their dog. Why? Because Larry Shue's "The Foreigner" is somewhat easy to put up (one set, manageable cast) and it's one of Shue's funnier and smarter pieces. So it's kind of a staple for smaller theaters. But while it is an easily doable show, it's not so easy to get it right. Much of it is spoken in a made up language (that has to make sense) and it's got a dark sharp edge to it that can kill the comedy. Luckily director Brian Yorkey understands that dark edge and his cast currently at Village Theatre completely get the humor of it amounting to a thoroughly solid and engaging production of an oft-produced gem.
It all follows poor Charlie (Erik Gratton) whose personal life is coming crashing down around him. So his friend Froggy (Patrick Phillips) takes him out of England and to Georgia with him while he's on assignment with the military for a few days. Froggy sets Charlie up at his friend Betty's (Sharva Maynard) inn. But Charlie is afraid he won't get the peace and quiet he seeks, as he's not good at talking with strangers so Froggy comes up with the perfect plan. He tells Betty that Charlie doesn't speak any English and no one should talk to him as it makes him self-conscious. A plan that could work except that the denizens of the area each find something they need in Charlie. Betty's found an exotic foreigner. One of Betty's other guests Catherine (Angela DiMarco) has found a confidant who will keep her secrets. Catherine's adorable yet slow brother Ellard (Anthony Lee Phillips) has found someone he can feel smart around. The racist and bullying Owen (Eric Ray Anderson) has found someone he can pick on who won't fight back. And Catherine's fiancé the Reverend David (Jonathan Crimeni) has found a distraction for Catherine who won't spoil his plans.
The production is charming and hilarious with plenty of belly laughs for all but also manages to have a brain. Yorkey's staging of the piece is wonderful with subtle nuances and character quirks that only add to the honesty and believability of the show. And with that gorgeously detailed set from Matthew Smucker, the world is quite complete.
The cast is fully engaged and focused at every turn. DiMarco manages to keep Catherine somewhat duped by the men of the house without ever coming across as gullible. Crimeni keeps the Reverend quite humble and believable making the truth of him all the harsher. Patrick Phillips has some wonderful moments as the concocter of the plan who is surpassed by his own creation. Maynard is completely lovable as the matron of the house who's thrilled at her new fascinating guest. Anderson manages a special kind of vile mixed with stupid making him the perfect villain for the comedy, a kind of dangerous but defeatable. And Anthony Lee Phillips turns in a superb performance complete with subtle ticks for his character that only lend to his realism and likability.
But it's Gratton who completely owns this show. Without ever really saying much he conveys volumes of emotion and meaning with his incredible facial expressions and comedic timing. He's completely focused in every moment of the show and his transformation is brilliant.
Truly a great production of an audience favorite. And with a production like this you might say everything is completely "blasny blasny" (translation: "Ain't Dees Nice?" or in my three letter ratings system, a solid YAY).
"The Foreigner" performs at Village Theatre's Issaquah location through March 2nd and then moves onto their Everett location running March 7th through the 30th. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.