Review of The Foreigner at SART

After a tremendous amount of bad luck trying to see plays over the past couple weeks, I finally made it to SART‘s production of The Foreigner on my second attempt. (The first night I went, the power went out in the theatre, d’oh!) So I sat down and anxiously awaited the first licks of “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and boy was I in for some confusion. Sorry, terrible joke. The Foreigner, of course, is Larry Shue’s oft-produced and highly quotable southern comedy about secrets big and small, charming and harmful.

It begins when Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur (Neil St. Clair) brings his friend Charlie Baker (Randy Noojin) to stay at the Georgian fishing lodge owned by Froggy’s friend Betty (Kay St. Clair). Froggy is hoping to get Charlie’s mind off his troubles, primarily the fact that his wife is both ailing and unfaithful. Charlie, though, has rather extreme social anxiety about the situation, and begs for Froggy to help him not have to talk to anyone during his stay, without appearing rude. Froggy, knowing Betty’s affinity for all things foreign and exotic, tells her — at first unbeknownst to Charlie — that Charlie is from another country and doesn’t speak any English, and that they mustn’t make him feel self-conscious about it. Betty is overjoyed and loves Charlie before even meeting him. The universal belief that Charlie can’t understand what they are saying leads all the other characters to speak freely about a variety of sensitive topics in front of him, and Charlie is then, of course, able to use this information to better the lives of the protagonists and make miserable those of the villains.

SART’s production features great ensemble work and strong acting with a few particular standouts: St. Clair as Betty was absolutely adorable and hilarious, with her exuberant commitment to communicate with Charlie at any cost. Bradshaw Call as Ellard, lodge guest Catherine’s (Heidi Kulas) slow-witted-turned-hero younger brother, commands an excellent physical presence and has a brilliantly expressive face and sweet, earnest line delivery. Noojin as Charlie scarcely talks during the better part of Act One, yet manages to be utterly engaging, charming, and memorable. The only real acting/directing choices I took issue with, actually, were to have local good ol’ boy Owen (Michael Mattison) and resident former debutante Catherine (Heidi Kulas) be respectively too overtly sinister and cold towards the beginning of the play. For the character of Owen, it kind of took away the opportunity for his persona to develop, as it had nowhere really new to go, and for Catherine, it made her transition to doting affability seem rather abrupt and without impetus. Also, some of the dialect work was inconsistent: Typically the weaker accents were from actors not from the area where the necessary accent is native, though Noojin’s British dialect was plenty respectable.

The set (by Richard Seagle) and technical aspects looked great, save some unnecessary fog in the second act that had neither basis in reality nor apparent mechanism to end at the appropriate time. The rustic lodge, though, was beautifully done and aptly detailed. Costumes (Paula McWhirter-Buck) seemed to be in kind of a no man’s land as far as period is concerned (maybe ‘80s-ish?), but were fitting to the characters.

Director Cameron Jackson led this group of actors in a well-paced, highly energetic, and, above all, very funny play; I think I can safely say everyone in the audience had a wonderful time. I’ve actually seen The Foreigner a number of times before, but it has surprising re-watch value. Be sure to check it out if you’ve never seen it, and treat yourself (and your family!) to another evening of laughs if you have.

The Foreigner runs at Owen Theatre on the Mars Hill campus Thursday, August 20 through Sunday, August 23 with performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and 2:30 p.m. matinees on Thursday and Sunday. Tickets $18 to $25, at (828) 689-1239 and www.sartplays.org.

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