Readers may well be aware that I have a particular fondness for the Crighton Theatre and its resident company, The Crighton Players. So it is that on the rare occasion I sense things are not going well on their stage, it gives me a bit of a shudder. Such was briefly the case when I attended the opening weekend of director, Paul Sidenblad’s production of Larry Shue’s award-winning play, “The Foreigner.”
The cause of my initial concern may have a genetic component. You see, my late father had no ear for the clipped accents in British films or television programs like “Masterpiece Theatre.” I think I inherited a bit of that tendency myself, and as “The Foreigner” got underway, two Englishman are visiting our state of Georgia. Froggy (Kat Gilcrease) and Charlie (Steve Roberts), have a series of opening exchanges that my guest and I found very difficult to hear or understand. Gilcrease in particular seemed to be racing the dialogue. Happily, as the show settled down, the solid cast would make hilarity the order of the day.
The action takes place in a rural fishing lodge (with an attractive set design by Sidenblad, Gil Mendez and Vince Connor) that is owned by Betty, amusingly played by Carolyn Corsano Wong, in a comic style reminiscent of Gilda Radner. At his dying wife’s insistence, shy, introverted Charlie is having a brief getaway (from his duties as a science fiction editor) with his old army buddy, Froggy. To avoid having to interact with the lodge owner and guests, the boys have concocted the story that Charlie is a “foreigner” who neither speaks nor understands English. This is the seed of the riotous mayhem that follows when assorted zany characters speak too freely in front of Charlie, while assuming he understands nothing. It is a clever concept that works very well in the hands of this capable cast and director.
To initiate the confusion we have the fading debutante, Catherine (Carole Lenz), and her scheming fiancé, David (velvet-voiced Ken Williams). Catherine, a lodge guest, has discovered she is “in a family way” months before the scheduled wedding. Their heated discussion on the subject takes place in front of Charlie, who, of course, is supposed to understand none of this.
Meanwhile, David and his evil co-conspirator and fellow Ku Klux Klansman, Owen (Vince Connor) are plotting to take over Catherine’s inheritance and convert the failing lodge into a Klan headquarters. To add to the mix, Catherine has a dimwitted brother, Ellard (cleverly portrayed by Christopher Stoffel), who hilariously begins to teach Charlie to read and speak English. Roberts gives us a subtle and uproarious performance as Charlie, often skillfully relying on body language, gibberish and facial expressions to carry off this unusually challenging role.
Wong is equally delightful as she cheerfully makes the foreigner welcome and encourages others to respect his ridiculous (and pretended) foreign customs. She feels a special bond with the foreigner, and thinks they share “extra-circular communication.” The interplay between Ellard and Charlie is sometimes reminiscent of Laurel & Hardy. The bad guys get what’s coming to them, the comic charades are great fun and there are laughs aplenty. Come see for yourself!
For her part, Lenz provides an exceptional scene as she delivers a poignant and wrenching soliloquy to a Charlie she believes cannot understand her very personal revelations. It is a touching moment; and Charlie gives us another when he summarizes the relationships with his new-found friends “All of us … We’re making one another complete!” Somehow that seems to describe the talented Crighton Players and their appreciative audience.
Additional 8 o’clock p.m. performances will be Friday and Saturday and July 22-23, with one 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Call (936) 441-7469 for tickets and information, or visit the Web site at www.crightonplayers.org.
(The Courier 7.13.05)