Foreigner’s silence is golden
By Daniel Skora
Posted: April 17, 2014 at 11:09 a.m.
Rules were made to be broken, so it’s not unusual that The Encore Musical Theatre Company should occasionally depart from its stated mission of presenting the best in musical entertainment. They’re currently performing “The Foreigner,” playwright Larry Shue’s comedy about the complications that ensue when a man finds it necessary to pretend he doesn’t speak a word of English.
Since its premiere in 1984, “The Foreigner” has become a staple for both amateur and professional theaters alike. Fans who live and breathe live theater, especially that of the repertory kind, will undoubtedly have seen the show several times. The Encore’s production, which deserves to stand with the best, comes with a twist. The role of Charlie Baker, a mild mannered Londoner who proofreads science fiction for a living, is usually cast with a young, 20-something actor. Here, the role is taken up by Adrian Diffey, an actor who’s been 20-something a couple of times, and his casting achieves splendid results. Diffey manages to add copious amounts of charm and sentiment to the role of Charlie.
Shue’s story line has Charlie, at the persuasion of his friend Froggy LeSueur (Fran Potasnik), checking into Betty Meek’s Fishing Lodge Resort in rural Georgia. Charlie is badly in need of a little R and R. His wife lies seriously ill in a hospital, and Charlie has exhausted all of his energy staying at her bedside. When he protests to Froggy that he really shouldn’t have left his wife and doesn’t care to interact with anyone at the lodge, she suggests that by pretending to not speak English, everyone will leave him alone.
The ruse gets inadvertently set in motion when Charlie overhears several confidential conversations. Catherine Simms (Kathryn Mahard) and her soon-to-be husband, the Reverend David Marshall Lee (Jess Alexander), appear to be expecting a blessed event that could complicate their impending marriage. And Owen Musser (Todd St. George), a good old boy who runs with a dangerous crowd, and the Reverend Lee are plotting a grab at some inheritance money. Rounding out the characters in the story are Betty Meeks (Lori Pelham), a widow who runs the Lodge with motherly instincts, and Ellard Simms (Elliot Styles), Catherine’s dim-witted brother who stands to inherit a large amount of money if only he can acquire the smarts to handle it.
“The Foreigner” is a delightfully funny farce fueled by the language barrier created by Charlie’s refusal to speak English. When it becomes necessary for him to speak, Charlie does so in a hysterically funny invented language. And good things happen as a result. Catherine begins confiding in him under the assumption that he doesn’t understand a word she’s saying. Ellard, in his efforts to teach Charlie some words, starts developing a respectable vocabulary of his own. And while all of that’s taking place, Owen and the Reverend Lee inch ever closer to realizing the outcome of their sinister plot.
Diffey is brilliant as he advances his character from sad sack to man-in-charge. His second act performance in which he tells a story in the gibberish of his made-up language (the story bears considerable resemblance to “Little Red Riding Hood”) is a comic masterpiece. So too is the manner in which he later disposes of the thuggish Owen and his KKK henchmen.
Mahard is a standout as Catherine, who doesn’t have the lineage or the mansion to be considered a typical Southern belle, but nonetheless possesses that innate ability to always be at the center of attention. Mahard, speaking in a buttery drawl, plays Catherine with alternating doses of sweetness and overbearance.
To those seeking an answer to the question of whether this is a show to be seen, the answer Charlie Baker might give is this: “Glut blasney, blasney!” which translates to something like “Yes, of course, of course!” And he’d be right – of course – because it’s that good of a show.
“The Foreigner” is directed by Paul Hopper. Costumes are by Sharon Urick and set design is by Daniel C. Walker.
SHOW DETAILS: “The Foreigner” runs through May 4. Tickets and information are available by phone at 734-268-6200 or online at www.theencoretheatre.org. The Encore Theatre is located at 3126 Broad Street in the historic village of Dexter. Take I-94 west and exit at Baker Street.
Reprinted with permission of the New Monitor, April 17, 2014