By Edward and Jeanne Lieberman
Players’ current production of The Foreigner features an outstanding
cast in a madcap comedy that is arguably more timely today than when it was
first written in 1984.
The play was
written by Larry Shue and won Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Off-Broadway
Play and Outstanding Playwriting for Mr. Shue in 1985 (unfortunately Mr. Shue
died in a plane crash the following year).
Jeff Schlotman as Froggy and Chris Jamison as Betty
giving too much away, the show is set in rural Georgia, where Charlie, a
British proofreader, is brought by his friend, a British Army officer, “Froggy”
LeSueur, who knows Betty Meeks, the proprietress of a failing fishing lodge
that is threatened with foreclosure. Charlie, who is painfully shy to begin
with, is further wracked with guilt because Froggy has spirited him away from
his wife, who is in the hospital. Charlie feels that his place is to be with
her, despite the fact that she told him that she has cheated on him with some
23 other men. When Charlie is told that there would be other guests at the
lodge, he tells Froggy that he is in no condition to speak with other people,
so Froggy concocts a cover story that Charlie is from a foreign country and
speaks no English! This delights Betty, the proprietress of the lodge, who has
never traveled and is delighted to cater to a stranger who “is as foreign as
the day is long.” At first, the other guests, a young couple engaged to be
married (heiress Catherine Simms and her fiancé, Rev. David Lee), and
Catherine’s intellectually challenged brother, Ellard, together with David’s
friend, the racist town Building Inspector, Owen Musser, make fun of Charlie,
thinking he doesn’t understand what they are saying.
Richie Lauria as Ellard and Keith Young as Charlie
however, Charlie “allows” Ellard to “teach” him English. The amazing rapidity
with which he “learns” from Ellard, gives Ellard more confidence and respect
from his sister, who has to decide if Ellard is competent to inherit half of
their parents’ considerable estate. The exercise gradually draws Charlie out of
his depression, and, maintaining his pose, he is ultimately able to defeat a
plot between David and Owen to take ownership of the lodge from Betty and use
it as a base of operations for the “Invisible Empire” -- another name for the
this all together is the maniacally comic performance of Keith Young, as
Charlie. His evolution from a suppressed bundle of neuroses, cringing with fear
at the thought of interacting with strangers, to a decisive social animal
capable of intimidating the racist Owen, had the audience roaring with
laughter, quite the accomplishment considering the somewhat serious underlying
theme of xenophobia. He accomplishes this through use of an improvised
language that would make Robin Williams proud, and physical mannerisms that
draw inspiration from Steve Martin.
Schlotman, who describes himself as “White Plains’ Dentist to the Stars,” does
an admirable job portraying Froggy (the role originated by playwright Shue in
the original New York production). Utilizing a passable British accent, Mr.
Schlotman bookends the production by introducing Charlie in the beginning;
looking after him periodically during the show; and ultimately delivering the
coup de gras at the end.
There isn’t a
weak link in the cast, which also includes Chris Jamison, as Betty (the
proprietress of the lodge); Cassie White, as Catherine; Richard Lauria, as her
brother Ellard; and Zachary Curtin and Scott Brannon, as the villains David and
In a play
such as this, involving a dash of slapstick and a large dollop of improvisation
and physical comedy, timing is key. And direction is the key to timing, so
kudos must go to Pia Haas and her assistant Chris Rudy for keeping the pace
brisk and coherent. Although the play starts out slowly in the first act,
introducing the characters’ back stories to the audience, once Charlie and
Ellard begin Charlie’s “education” with an imitative glass hat routine
reminiscent of the mirror game of Groucho and Harpo Marx in Duck Soup,
the play picks up steam and increases its velocity through Charlie’s made-up
language patter, interspersing English with nonsense words. The fact that this
play works so well is a tribute to the talent of the cast, especially Mr.
Young, and Ms. Haas’ direction.
go out to Lighting Designer Rodd Berro and Set Designer David Morabito and his
collaborators Bill Barish, Rodd Berro, Richie Lauria, Chris Rudy and Michael
Weitzner, for their wonderful set, which enabled Mr. Lauria, as Ellard, to pull
off a disappearing act late in the show reminiscent of that of the Wicked Witch
in Wizard of Oz.
In the end,
this is a comedy that addresses a serious issue that, unfortunately, is perhaps
more timely today than it was when it was written: xenophobia. The program notes
recount that playwright Shue felt that “the only way to deal with xenophobia is
to mock it, laugh at it.” This production certainly does that, in a way that
is, perhaps not P.C. One doubts that this production would do well south of the
at the Whippoorwill Hall, 19 Whippoorwill Road East, Armonk, NY 10504 December
4-6 at 8:00 pm. Ticket info at www.Armonkplayers.org.