Review: Larry Shue's Comedy THE FOREIGNER Still Relevant as Social Commentary to our Political Scene Today
Anyone following today's ever-present and socially-challenging political scene via news outlets will certainly appreciate the humor and biting commentary in Larry Shue's comedy THE FOREIGNER. From its setting in rural Georgia with individuals who appear to be living in a social world hundreds of years in the past, to the danger of racial and religious prejudice those people promote as being the right way for people to live, there may be times now when many can just shake their head at the nonsense - or, hopefully, admit it is time to take a different message out in the world ourselves.
Thanks to Little Fish company member David Graham's knowledge on how to present the mayhem and mischief ever-present in this farcical comedy, as well as his ability to cast the right people in its key roles, the production is both entertaining and relevant to what many "foreigners" are now facing at the borders to our nation. No doubt, like me, there are times near the end of the play where you would like to join in ousting the offending bigots off the stage along with those doing a great job of accomplishing that task.
Shue's two-act comedy takes place in a fishing lodge in rural Tilghman County, Georgia, often visited by Froggy, a British demolition expert expertly portrayed with great humor by Don Schlossman, who occasionally runs training sessions in the nearby area. This time Froggy has brought along a friend, a pathologically shy man named Charlie (perfectly mild-mannered David Lawrence) who is there to get away from his ailing wife who admitted to having cheated on him with 23 other men. Torn between staying with her during her final months of life or getting away to save his own sanity, Charlie, whose fear at the thought of making conversation with strangers has hindered his social interactions his entire life, is about to encounter the unexpected, and perhaps biggest, challenge of his life.
After arriving in what he thought would be an isolated building with no one else around, Charlie realizes just how many local strangers are staying under the same roof with whom he will have to interact. Froggy sends his friend up to his room, pondering how to make the situation work for his friend. Just then, the lodge's simple, down-home, female owner Betty Meeks (Madeleine Drake) comes in, and during a conversation with Froggy makes an off-handed remark about how difficult it is to communicate with foreigners - and a light bulb literally goes off in Froggy's mind, thanks to Schlossman's remarkable ability to express emotion with his insightful facial expressions. His solution is to tell Betty and the town locals that Charlie is from an exotic foreign country and speaks no English.
Taking the explanation that he's a non-English speaker as fact, the lodge's guests quickly begin revealing their secrets, and Charlie soon discovers several scandals taking place within the lodge walls, including an evil plot to take the lodge away from the owner being devised Rev. David Marshall Lee (Chance Dean) and local good old boy Clan member Owen Musser (Gregg Lawrence, always brilliant in his ability to represent the evil lurking below the surface, sometimes with just a "look"); the minister's pretty, somewhat wealthy, former debutante fiancée's Catherine Simms' (Heather L. Tyler) secret; the unrecognized abilities of her somewhat dim-witted brother Ellar Simms (Trip Langley); and other uproarious revelations made with the thought that Charlie doesn't understand a word being said. And of course, in his mind this is the fodder needed to change things for the better without really having to say much to anyone.
But when Charlie does attempt to communicate after encouraging Ellar to teach him English in just one day, which amazes the others, the most hilarious scene in the play begins when Froggy comes in for a visit and mentions how funny Charlie's stories always are. The others are confused, no doubt wondering how Froggy can understand what Charlie has to say without him communicating in English, which forces Charlie to create a story told through what I can only describe as massively funny pantomime using broken German-Russian-Greek-Italian-Spanish words to tell the story. And while it makes no sense to any of them or us, I guarantee the expressions on all the actors' faces, as well as Langley's skill at presenting Charlie's tale, will have you gasping for air with laughter.
And when, thanks to Charlie's "new" English skills he devises a way to end the onslaught of the Clan coming to seize the lodge for their own headquarters, the fiercely funny climax in which things go tumultuously awry will have you applauding the group's victory against those whose view of life is no way cannot be allowed to exist ANYWHERE. And if they can take a stand, so can we!
Technical credits of Graham's all female crew, including producer Tara Donovan, greatly enhance the overall mood of the play, especially the realistic, dual level scenic design by Kaitlin Chang, lighting design by Shannon Barondeau, costume design by Elena Vannoni, and prop design by Madeleine Drake, especially the eye-catching lodge desk phone - a deer's head with antlers receiver.
THE FOREIGNER runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm through July 15 with two Sunday 2:00pm matinees on June 24 and July 15 at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro's Arts District, 777 S. Centre St., San Pedro, CA 90731. Tickets are $27 regular/$25 seniors/$15 25-and-under with code "Hipster"). Discounts Available for Groups of 10+ by calling the box office at (310) 512-6030.
Photo credit: Mickey Elliot