BWW Review: THE FOREIGNER at Tallgrass Theatre Company
Tallgrass Theatre Company opened its 2018-19 season this past weekend with "The Foreigner," a fantastically funny farce. Ironically, it just so happens the subject matter behind this show has renewed relevance in our present world.
The serious undercurrent that anchors the message of playwright Larry Shue is a dark reminder that in some places, not much has changed in the racist heart of America. And while hilarity ensues throughout this production, the main point is not lost in that the way you view "The Other" has a lot to do with how you see yourself.
Yes, this is a production that certainly makes you think. It makes you feel emotions. It makes you identify with characters. And finally, thankfully, it makes you laugh - especially during the second act.
This entertaining production is staged beautifully at Tallgrass Theatre, equipped with impressive new lighting and a sound system that transports you directly to a rural Georgia fishing lodge on a stormy evening in the early 1980's.
'Off-beat' would be a word that comes to mind when we first meet the quiet, reserved Charlie (played by Brett Spahr, who demonstrates superb comedic timing) and his side-kick, the energetic British demolition expert/Army officer, Staff Sergeant Froggy (played by Greg Blumhagen). Charlie is dragged to the fishing lodge by Froggy for a 3-day get away so Charlie can forget his troubles, namely his philandering, dying wife back in Britain.
Since Charlie is overcome with fear at the thought of making conversation with strangers, Froggy (in Georgia for a military exercise involving explosives) tells all assembled that Charlie is from an exotic foreign country and speaks no English. Once alone, the fun really begins as Charlie overhears more than he should from a host of different characters. As Charlie sits dumbly in his chair, we see lodge owner Betty (Arlene McAtee) provide southern hospitality in the way of lovingly prepared meals. We watch pregnant and soon to be married Catherine (Tiffany Flory) become Charlie's confidante while her fiancé is away and up to no good. We see Catherine's brother, the dim-witted Ellard (an endearing Adam Fast) try to teach Charlie English. And later we see Charlie try to teach his new found friends his ridiculous, made-up, foreign language. As the play progresses, we witness Charlie coming out of his shell as he gains the attention and becomes the confidante and hero he always wanted to be.
As Reverend David and the sinister Owen (a red-neck you love to hate, played quite convincingly by James Hotchkin) plot to take ownership of the fishing lodge, it is Charlie who overhears secrets and becomes embroiled in their scheme, leading him to make full use of his wits and foreigner persona to try and stop them.
The show triumphs with its storytelling nature and the talents of Spahr. Through a mix of lithe physical antics and impressive dialect work, he brings the title character of Charlie to life and allows the audience to walk in the shoes of a foreigner. He delights the audience with his pantomiming eating habits, wacky dance moves, nutty gibberish and transports us to a "Foreign Land of Funny Farce" not soon to be forgotten.
Director Mark Littlejohn has ensembled an impressive cast, with over half of the actors making their theatrical debut with Tallgrass Theatre Company in this production. As an audience member, you will surely be impacted by this show and Littlejohn's take away message: "Through the exaggerated characters and situations of farce, there is still a dark underbelly of human nature, always waiting in the shadows for a chance to take hold. We are also reminded that sometimes the most unlikely of heroes, the most timid and shy amongst us, can find that inner fortitude to shine a light into the darkness and push that evil back from whence it came."
Don't miss out. This thought provoking show is playing now through November 11th at Tallgrass Theatre Company.
About this Company: Tallgrass Theatre Company strives to enrich the greater Des Moines community by providing a venue for new and unique performance work that is both entertaining and evocative.
Noteworthy: Tallgrass Theatre Company is also ramping up for an exciting season, with their dream project "Ordinary Days" coming to the stage Jan 18th through February 3rd and "Eat Your Heart Out" running March 29th - April 14th. Both shows are the first community stage productions to be shown in the state of Iowa.
To find out more information about Tallgrass Theatre's upcoming season or to order tickets, visit www.tallgrasstheatre.org