BWW Review: THE FOREIGNER is Full of Laughs and Surprises at Covered Bridge Players

BWW Review: THE FOREIGNER is Full of Laughs and Surprises at Covered Bridge Players

The Covered Bridge Players is running a hilarious production of Larry Shue's "The Foreigner". This comedy is unique for it feels like a play within a play. "The Foreigner" has a tried and true comedy structure. Six characters existing in an isolated location causing comedy out of confusion. The result is an engaging story with flushed out interesting characters . Director Carron Clark leads a skilled group of strong actors delivering moving and memorable performances. This comedy surprised me with staggering notes of acceptance, love, friendship, and solidarity against greed and hate. The realness found in the actors performance gives this play feels, laughs and at times frights.

The story is set in a fishing lodge that is "way back" deep in them Georgia woods. If you're not familiar with southern terminology, "way back" is a further distance than "there yonder." The falling apart rustic lodge is owned by the sweet widow Betty Meeks (Bunny Murphree). The play begins as her friend arrives, the boisterous Sgt. Froggy Lasuer of the Brittish Army (Ashley Allen). Betty is quite fond of Froggy's exciting tales from his global adventures. Froggy has brought with him a friend from London. Charlie Baker (Zach Bruse) is in the middle of a mental and marital crisis. He is lost in a sea of mental confusion. Froggy thought since he is doing 3 days of collaborative military maneuvers nearby, Charlie would enjoy a get away at Betty's isolated lodge. After they arrive, Froggy spills the beans that the lodge does have other guests. Charlie freaks out under his own pressure to talk to strangers. Froggy remedies this by telling Betty that Charlie is from an exotic country and does not speak a word of English. This lie creates the momentum of comical misdirection as the rest of the guests cross his path. Enter a former southern debutant Catherine (Katie Milligan) and her dutiful husband, the swarmy Rev. David Marshall Lee (Richard Phillips). Catherine's inquisitive sister Ellie (Nicole Singleton) is under her care, for she is intellectually challenged. After each encounter, Charlie soon embraces the freedom provided by his lie. He finds the experience turning into a get away from his problems in London, but also the troubles within himself. The bitter salt in this stew arrives in Rev. David's visits from "good ole boy" and city property inspector Owen (Sammy Hodges). His abrasive nature and loud mouth reveal the true nature of what is going down. Giving Charlie more cause to stay in this character. The story continues at a great pace, revealing more layers, emotions and laughs along the way.

BWW Review: THE FOREIGNER is Full of Laughs and Surprises at Covered Bridge Players

"The Foreigner" was put up on stage at Covered Bridge Players five years ago. I asked director Carron Clark what is so special about the play that drew her back to it again. "Honestly? It was a test of myself." She says. " Not only has Covered Bridge Players grown, but I've grown so much in the last five years. It knew that I could do such a better job directing it this time around. It's one of my favorite stories." The amazing cast Clark assembled provides a stellar chemistry with authentic enthusiasm. "The cast made the whole process so enjoyable." Clarks tells me. "They listened and studied and bonded. Even if I didn't sell one damn ticket - it was worth it to see the growth they all achieved."

BWW Review: THE FOREIGNER is Full of Laughs and Surprises at Covered Bridge Players

Katie Milligan plays the ex-debutant Catherine with a vast range, giving the role a real edge. Milligan worked to make her evolution natural and relatable. "Carron did not want her to come off shrill or over the top." Milligan skates a fine line of being bitchy without making the audience hate her. She learns a lot about herself as the performance progresses. "She hates herself at the beginning of the play." Milligan shares. "She even has that one line "Some people are just meant to be a waste of food, and I'm one of them." Her biggest change is the love she finds for herself. Someone's sees it and she sees them too. Catherine experiences great growth in the show."

Nicole Singleton shines in the role of Ellie. Her approach brings a skilled and focused connection to a warm and wonderful role. Ellie is not the sharpest tool in the shed but she is just as durable and strong. This honest approach was mandatory to delivering a character with an intellectual disability. Singleton shares "the first thing our director said is that she wanted Ellie to come off honestly and innocently There is no mold you can put Ellie in." The challenge was to walk a fine line as someone who is a bit slow but not be offensive. "My goal was to deliver her as an innocent soul. It took time to work out the complexities. Then one night it just clicked and the honestly of Ellie was there." Singleton delivers a wonderful performance that is a work of art.

BWW Review: THE FOREIGNER is Full of Laughs and Surprises at Covered Bridge Players

Zach Buse gives life to the quiet and troubled Charlie. Buse's subtle nuances in the role make for a treat. He gives a wonderful range from a subdued Chaplin to a bombastic Danny Kaye. His deliveries and calculated comedy timing makes the show run with funny. Buse worked to get this balance. "The hardest part was practicing restraint." He shares. " Charlie could easily go over the top. I had to learn ways to show that Charlie is intensely paying attention to everything that's going on around him, but not to show it. Figuring out little things like a look or a nod that shows he's putting it together. It is fun bringing him to life and playing him as a genuine person." The lie about speaking English was another challenge. "My goal was after he starts out pretending, I wanted my performance to lead the audience to forget that he could speak English and that he was putting a plan together the entire show." Buse is delivers an intriguing layered performance. Rarely does a role come around for an actor to play a role, of role inside a role.

The racist "good ole boy" Owen is played to the nines by Sammy Hodges. He brings an abundance of attitude and commitment to the role. "There is nothing about me that is like this character at all." Hodges says with a laugh. "I wanted him to be real but I wanted to make fun of him." Sammy found a great balance of mixing the mean nature of the character with comedic elements of Boss Hogg, Ernest T. Bass and Clayton Bigsby. "It developed naturally over time. The hardest part is some of Owen's lines are really offensive to me. Its tricky finding ways to says things of getting is he says things I don't say." Hodges chews up the role in an impressive delivery going the gambit of comical, racist and then all the way up to friggin scary racist. If you have also felt the hairs on your neck raise up from impending physical violence from racist, you know what I mean.

The cast is complete with Ashley Allen giving a bombastic presence and character to the role of Sgt. Froggy LeSueur. Bunny Murphee is the matriarch of the bunch with a sweet southern smile. Richard Phillips as the questionable Rev. David Marshall Lee.

It was a real surprise to enjoy this play as much as I did. It's a comedy at its core but its also so much more. Larry Shue wove a great many areas for an actor to dive head first into a scene and make memorable theater. Kudos to the cast and crew of "The Foreigner." The show closes this weekend and is well worth the drive to Oneonta. Better see it now or else take a chance at them doing this play again in five years.

The Covered Bridge Players

The Foreigner

Written by Larry Shue

Directed by Carron Clark

Sgt Froggy LeSuer - Ashley Allen

Charlie Baker - Zach Buse

Betty Meeks - Bunny Murphree

Rev David Marshall Lee - Richard Phillips

Catherine Simms - Katie Milligan

Owen Musser - Sammy Hodges

Ellie Simms - Nicole Singleton

Dates: May 4-6 & 11-13 Fri , Sat 7:30 (Sun matinees at 2:00)

Tickets: $15

www.coveredbridgeplayers.com or 205-274-7469

Covered Bridge Players
413 6th Street South
Oneonta, AL 35121

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