‘The Foreigner’ Lampoons British\Southern Culture Clash
Thank God for actors. They make us feel emotions, make us think, make us identify with their characters, and make us laugh.
There was plenty of laughter, much of it in the second act, of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s production of The Foreigner, directed by Bruce Hirsch at the Arts Barn in Gaithersburg, MD. Written by Larry Shue in the mid-80s, The Foreigner follows the misadventures of a British duo, one talky, one dour at a fishing lodge in rural Georgia in 1982.
“Off-beat” is the word that comes to mind when we meet the quiet, reserved Charlie (John Van Eck, who displayed superb comic timing) and the energetic, British Army Officer, Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur (Paul Noga). They are like the British literary characters Jeeves and Wooster—if one of that duo were a near-mute. Charlie is dragged to the fishing lodge by Froggy for a vacation so Charlie can forget his troubles, namely his philandering, dying wife back in Britain.
From there we meet the owner of the lodge, Betty Meeks (Becky Batt), Catherine Simms (the excellent Becca Sears), who is pregnant and engaged to be married soon to the Reverend David Marshall Lee (Rob Milanich, who played Reverend Lee, with and underhanded menace), and then the town building inspector Owen Musser (the extremely fun to watch Marc Rehr), who wants to be Sheriff of Tilghman, County, Georgia, and dim-witted Ellard Simms (Dave Scheele), Catherine’s brother, who stands to inherit $112,000, his half of the family fortune—if he can prove he’s got all his mental marbles—it’s a farce, folks.
Since Charlie says he wants to be left alone during this three-day mini-vacation, Froggy (in Georgia for a military exercise involving explosives) concocts the fiction that Charlie is a foreigner who can’t speak a word of English. From there, as Charlie sits dumbly in his rocking chair, we see Betty provide her Southern hospitality in the way of lovingly prepared meals, Catherine become Charlie’s confidant when Reverend Lee is away (and up to no good), and Ellard try to teach Charlie English. Later we see Charlie try to teach his new found friends his ridiculous, made-up, foreign language.
While everyone else is away, Charlie tells Froggy that he has a new sense of pride playing the titular “foreigner.” He has finally become the raconteur and confidant he always wanted to be. Charlie is delighted to come out of his shell.
As Reverend Lee and the sinister-but-funny Owen plot to take ownership of the fishing lodge, it is Charlie who overhears secrets and becomes embroiled in Reverend Lee and Owen’s cartoonish, Scooby Doo scheme (involving ghosts of the racist variety) to take over the lodge, leading to Charlie having to make full use of his wits, and his foreigner persona to try and stop them.
I have to reserve space to call out Rehr for owning his performance as the no-goodnick, out-sized Owen. He dominated his scenes with a mix of understated evil and an Archie Bunker-esque humor, with a little of late Hollywood actor Strother Martin thrown in. Van Eck elevated his performance to a “Mork from Ork” frenzy in his best scenes. Sears conveyed the long-suffering of Catherine well, throughout. You could see the subtext of Milanich’s evil machinations on his Stepford-husband, stone-face.
I wish Bill Brown could set design my house, so realistic his set appeared, with its polished, wooden walls. Director Bruce Hirsch not only got the most out of his actors, but did a memorable job as Sound Designer, invoking everything from a rain storm to an explosion.
The Foreigner is a funny-bone-breaking good time. Be ready to be transported to a ‘Foreign Land of Funny’ when you go.
Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
The Foreigner plays through May 29, 2016 at Sandy Spring Theatre Group at The Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.
Meet The Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 1: Rob Milanich.
Meet the Cast of ‘Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 2: Paul Noga.
Meet the Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 3: Marc Rehr.
Meet the Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’: Part 4: Becca Sears.
Meet The Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’: Part 5: Dave Scheele.
Meet The Cast of Sandy Spring Theater Group’s ‘The Foreigner’: Part 6: John Van Eck.
Meet the Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 7: Becky Batt.
*All the interviews authored by Joel Markowitz.