Review: THE FOREIGNER at As If Theatre

The production runs now through October 23rd.

By: Oct. 08, 2022
Review: THE FOREIGNER at As If Theatre
Review: THE FOREIGNER at As If Theatre
Sonja Rose Usher, Jason Gingold, Mike Tucker
And Cindy Giese French in THE FOREIGNER at
​​​​​​As If Theatre. Photo Credit: Christine Mitchell

THE FOREIGNER at As If Theatre provides a farcical romp of entertainment while yet managing to deliver a poignant message on racism and fear of others that remains as relevant today as when Shue wrote it forty years ago. Thoroughly seeded with absurdities and archetypes, the play offers easy laughs. However, the intricacy of the story and writing also provide much more for the audience to digest. THE FOREIGNER engages the mind, lifts the spirits, and soothes the soul.

Charlie Baker is a science fiction editor who is taking a much needed break from his self-proclaimed boring life where his flirtatious wife is seriously ill. Baker's friend, Froggy LeSueur brings him to a rural lodge in Georgia for a retreat where Baker pleads to be left alone and not be forced into idle conversations. Froggy's answer to this plea is to tell his friend and lodge owner, Betty Meeks, that Baker doesn't speak any English. Now Baker finds himself being privy to all sorts of information that is freely spoken in front of him. The resident foreigner is welcomed by some and made the butt of jokes by others. Will Baker be able to use the secret information to help those who have been kind to him and foil the plans of the others? For that answer, you will have to come see the play yourself.

As If Theatre's production includes a well-rounded cast of As If regulars and newcomers. Founding member, Cindy Giese French appears as the kindly but clueless lodge owner Betty Meeks. She flexes her comedic muscles with the varied ways she attempts to communicate with Baker from overly loud and slow pronunciations, to pantomime, and even her own strange mesh of sign language. The only thing bigger than her antics is her heart which endears her to everyone. Terry Boyd's Froggy Lesueur is engaging and manages to make the most absurd ideas seem plausible. He is like a theme park worker who buckles you in for a ride you aren't sure about and then dares you not to enjoy it. Jalyn Green's work as Rev. David Marshall Lee displayed a great range. He has all the charm and charisma of a Southern televangelist, and on a turn of a pin reveals a side as slimy as a greased pig. I really like Green, and he did a great job of making me really dislike his character. Catherine Simms, played by Sonja Rose Usher, is perhaps the most understatedly complex character. A former debutante with plans for a big wedding finds herself in a bit of trouble and with a recurrent feeling that something is just not quite as it seems. Usher brings Catherine out of the usual people-pleasing box and allows her to be annoying, frustrated, and perfectly imperfect. Usher's work provides the guideposts for the audience to navigate the absurdities and find the truths. She is subtle and stealth and skilled at this, and the production is the better for it.

Mike Tucker makes his As If debut as Ellard Simms, the simpleton brother to Catherine. His enthusiasm is more contagious than covid. While all the characters bring humor in some way, Tucker's methods are the most physical and provide an energetic outlet for the many emotions that run through the play. Tucker's work is honest, authentic, and endearing. John Clark as Owen Musser literally made me nauseous, not because he was bad, but because he was so damn believable that it made my heart hurt. His discomfort with people who are different, with feeling inferior was so palpable. His undisguised hatred was powerful. I'm sure he's a really nice guy, but the imprint of his performance will be hard for me to shake. I hope I get to see him as a protagonist soon to cleanse my palette. Jason Gingold commands the stage as Charlie Baker. I'm not sure if this was a dream role for him, but he was a dream to watch. He gave a master class on listening in a scene, and it was damned near perfect. I'm not sure how much of his fake language was scripted and what was improv, but it was all hilarious and delivered with finesse.The quiet moments, right before Baker's replies that Gingold stretched were my absolute favorites. Those tiny moments were filled with all the hopes and dreams of all you wanted to happen. Gingold also showed some physical prowess matching Tucker in some of the best comedic moments of the show.

Amy Hockman's costume design might not seem that noticeable, but that is only because everything was perfectly chosen. Everything simply worked, and nothing was distracting. Director Ken Michels has helmed many a successful show, and I predict that this one will be on the top of that list. The casting was superb, and the blocking aided the narrative without being forced. Perhaps an even greater contribution to the show was his set design. I have seen a half dozen shows in this space, and this set blew me away. It made the stage seem huge and gave so many opportunities for the actors to interact in interesting ways. His vision for the space and the show made everything else possible.

It must be noted that the theme of racism is a prevalent part of this show. There are approximately ten minutes of very intense scenes that may be tough or even triggering for some. However, the message is important, and the realization that the story is still relevant is important. Shue's play allows us to explore this issue in an accessible way, and tackling tough topics is something that more theaters should do. It has been a long hard road bringing theater back after the pandemic. This year has been a year of recovery and rediscovery. THE FOREIGNER at As If Theatre has me believing in the magic of theater again. When asked, "how was the show?" All I needed to say was, "I want to see it again." And I think I will, and you should too.


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