How does one acquire personality? Surely it’s not as easy as attending an uproarious comedy at America’s Oldest Continuously Operating Little Theatre? But of course it is! Vagabond Players has just the play in mind for anyone wanting a little personality or just a rollicking good evening of laughable good comedy as they present Larry Shue’s award-winning comedy The Foreigner. Directed by Steve Goldklang, this titillating romp will tickle your funny bone and have you howling the night away in hysterics before the final scene comes to a close.
The fishing lodge resort of widow Betty Meeks never felt more at home in Tilghman County, Georgia with Scenic Designers Roy Steinman and Maurice “Moe” Conn gussying the place right up. The rustic charm of the dark wood paneling and deer-mount hung high on the wall are just little hints of Conn and Steinman’s work that give the place that ‘lost in a backward time’ sense. Heightening the aesthetic elements of the production is Lighting and Sound Designer Stanley Kudzin. Providing one of the more authentic indoor thunderstorms with precision timed light flickers for lightning, Kudzin draws a little bit of uncertainty and tension into the atmosphere with his storm effects.
While the play is mostly a comic gem, Director Steve Goldklang finds intrinsic ways of balancing the heavier and darker emotional turmoil of the production, particularly a scene near the end. For fear of spoiling the show, it shall just be said that Goldklang knows how to direct a scene to maximize it’s startling dramatic potential when faced with the ghosts of America’s history. Goldklang allows the comedy of the production to grow naturally, nary a moment in the performance feeling contrived or out of place.
Each of the characters that appear in the production are carefully crafted by a talented cast under Goldklang’s skilled direction resulting in real people with relatable stories. Good guys and bad guys and some misunderstood people in the mix as well; there is something for everyone to identify with in this brilliant production. The relationships among the actors generated on the stage have a rich authenticity to them; feeling as if the lodgers of Betty Meeks’ house have been family all along, and their strange new guest is going to be fit into that equation whether he likes it or not.
Sgt. Froggy LeSueur (Ian Bonds) is a true foreigner when it comes to his British presence in the Georgia household. Bonds lives up to the characters’ namesake with a croaky gravel in his voice and a slightly hoppy, albeit pleasant, edge to his personality. It is often his one-line zinger responses or silent facial expressions in response to Charlie’s shenanigans that give his character comic merit. His interactions with Betty are of a sweet and chummy nature, making him an all around well-loved soldier.
The loveable, albeit boisterous, Betty Meeks (Carol Evans) is everyone’s down-home southern granny just waiting to show her hospitality to everyone. Evans has the audience roaring in hysterics when she takes to shouting twice as loud at ‘the foreigner’ when she’s told he doesn’t understand English. Her overall comic delivery is priceless, particularly in moments of misinterpreting things or misconstruing meanings. Evans is one heck of a hilarious addition to this cast, rounding out the zanier end of the talented folks involved with the show.
Hot-heated and perfectly vile, Owen Musser (Steven Shriner) embodies the epitome of backwoods prejudice and all around intolerable ignorance. Shriner creates the perfect loose-cannon this villainous knave; delightfully depraved in his raw and unbelievable eruptions of putrid righteous morals taken to the extreme. His accent carries the perfect twang and his rigid posture tells it all when it comes to certain uncomfortable situations. Playing this character at the top of his anger reservoir, Shriner showcases his skill in delivering these negative emotions at all levels of volume, not just the stereotypically expected bursts of loudness.
Tempering this short-fused cretin is the much more mellow Rev. David Marshall Lee (David Shoemaker). With a smooth sounding southern accent, Shoemaker diffuses hyper-charged situations with his seemingly sound logic. Watch Shoemaker’s performance closely as a great deal of what happens with his character simply cannot be discussed for fear of giving the show away. Audiences will, however, be thoroughly pleased when the time comes for him to lose his cool and the frustration that’s been building up inside of him finally comes to an explosive head.
Engaged to the good Reverend is the sweet Catherine Simms (Amanda Gatewood) if only a word such a as ‘sweet’ could be used to describe her. Choking on a bitter pill of hilarious sarcasm, Gatewood brings quite the attitude to the prissy sissy of a woman. Her tart astringent edges soften as she encounters Charlie, but Gatewood is always ready to dish out a heaping helping of bristly southern hospitality when it comes to handling difficult situations.
Her brother Ellard (Tavish Forsyth) may not be the sharpest tack in the box but it creates moments of exceptional hilarity when he interacts with just about everyone. Forsyth really hams up the ‘thickheaded’ moments of his character’s existence, particularly when playing scenes with Charlie Baker (Eric C. Stein) the title character. Forsyth and Stein have a natural chemistry when it comes to the silent mirror scene that occurs over the breakfast table, drawing peals of laughter from the audience throughout the entire scene. Forsyth gives full commitment to his particularly slow southern draw, and his slightly sluggish physicality completes the portrait of his character’s dimwitted nature.
Stein, as the title character, is nothing short of a trip. With precise comic timing, brilliant humorous delivery, and the perfect balance of his ‘foreign’ accent verses his British one, Stein has all eyes on him for every scene in which he appears. Finding the perfect balance between using his physicality and his facial expressions to further carve humor into his performance, Stein’s efforts result in tremendously uproarious moments for everyone watching. His ridiculously articulate gibberish is on point with both communication and comic ease. Between his physical antics—like slinking out of the chair akin to a melting snake to avoid an awkwardly personal conversation between the Reverend and his fiancée—and his vividly animated facial expressions—especially early in the show when he responds with a barely tolerant squint of the eyes and forced smile—the shenanigans are endless with Stein’s portrayal.
The Vagabond Players’ The Foreigner is a remarkably funny evening of theatre!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission.