Updated: Jun 20, 2020
"...a funny-bone-breaking good time!"
Thank God for actors. They make us feel emotions, make us think, make us identify with their characters, and make us laugh. And fortunately, there was plenty of all that at a recent viewing of Fullerton High School Theatre’s production of “The Foreigner,” directed by Michael Despars and Genni Klein. Playing through November 10th at the newly restored Little Theatre on campus right behind the Plummer Auditorium, “The Foreigner,” a fun and funny farce from the 1980s, just happens to have renewed relevance at the moment.
Indeed, light entertainment can, when it is well done, make for a delightful evening at the theater, and this current production at FUHS is as good as you can get. Written by playwright Larry Shue, the play has become a staple of professional and amateur theatre, winning two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards as Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production.
The play is beautifully cast and staged. Devin Ricklef portrays Charlie Baker, a morose, self-deprecating British proofreader, painfully shy, and hopelessly insecure, whose unfaithful but very sick wife has him convinced that he is one of the world's dullest men.
A friend of his, a stiff-upper-lipped British Army explosives expert named Sergeant Froggy LeSueur (Cooper Miller), has been assigned to an American military base in backwater Georgia and convinces Charlie to come along with him to forget his troubles, namely his philandering, dying wife back in Britain.
Charlie, immersed in depression, does not want to meet or talk to anyone, so Froggy concocts a scheme to protect him from being around people by staying at a small guest cabin at a lodge in the area. He introduces Charlie as a foreigner who cannot speak or understand English. From there, as Charlie sits dumbly in his rocking chair, he gradually breaks out of his shell and becomes the central hero and raconteur he always wanted to be.
All the while, hostess Betty Meeks pours on the Southern hospitality. Isley Duarte and Sydney Castiglione both share the role of the exuberant and good-natured Ms. Meeks, the elderly widow and proprietor of the fishing lodge resort who thinks that knowing a foreigner will put octane in her life. The role gives manic energy to the play, complemented with a thick twang Southern accent.
Abigail Lange and Ashley Shilts both play the fetching Catherine Simms, an heiress staying at the resort with her mismatched fiancee, the Rev. David Marshall (Adam Rooney), along with her dim-witted brother Ellard Simms (Tate Heinle). Catherine, who has just learned she is pregnant, becomes Charlie’s confidant when Reverend David is away (and up to no good), and Ellard bonds with him and tries to teach him English.
Ellard, who stands to inherit $112,000, his half of the family fortune if he is deemed mentally capable, has become a strong subject of interest with the underhanded Reverend and one of the town hoodlums, Owen Musser. Charlie, playing his alien role perfectly, hears things he isn't supposed to, such as the plan of the two villians to bilk Ellard out of his inheritance. The sinister Owen, played demonstrably by Gavin Huffaker, injects his xenophobic feelings into the mix and dominates most of his scenes with a mix of understated evil and an “Edward Norton-esque” demeanor.
Even the Ku Klux Klan makes an entrance at the end, giving pause for thought. While abundant silliness has the house laughing through most of the action, the serious undercurrent that anchors the enduring hit is a reminder that, in some quarters, not much has changed in the racist heart of America.
The show is a particular triumph for Mr. Ricklef, who, through a mix of lithe physical antics, nervous tics, deft dialect work and spot on comic timing, brings the title character to life. He charms and delights with wacky balletic dance steps and nutty gibberish, radiating gentleness from every pore.
The play veers into vaudeville shtick at times, however. For example, an exchange about “how do you like your eggs?” goes on for awhile, but then, nobody said this was subtle comedy. It endures not because it’s a model of dry wit but because, through the goofiness of it all, there are genuine laughs and a true picture of the contrast between closed-mindedness and open-heartedness.
Ricklef’s Chaplin-like miming scene with Heinle, in which Charlie pretends to follow Ellard’s example in eating breakfast, is a treat and executed with precision, elevating his performance to a “Mork & Mindy” frenzy and rates as one of the best scenes in the show.
Scenic designer Tate Heinle (yes, he’s also playing Ellard) has created a whimsical but charming, multi-tiered Georgia fishing lodge. Picture down-home earthy and slightly tacky deep-south Americana. Mr. Heinle also serves as Technical Director.
Timothy Coleman and Adam Rooney, with Avi Block on Sound Board, does a memorable job as Sound Designers, invoking everything from a rain storm to an explosion. Costumes are handled by Beverly Shirk (assisted by Ashley Shilts and Emily Laguna), and Lighting is designed by Calvin Tate. Hair and Makeup is delivered by Abigail Lange and Isley Duarte. A larger technical crew helps propel the production successfully and deserves much praise.
Playing currently at FUHS this Friday and Saturday, November 9th and 10th at 7pm, a matinee on the 10th at 1pm, and a running time of two hours with a 15 minute intermission, “The Foreigner” is a funny-bone-breaking good time! I would Highly, Highly Recommend you getting your tickets now, because the audience was packed on my latest inspection. Go to http://www.fullertonacts.com/foreigner/ and have yourself some fun this weekend!
National Youth Arts
The Show Report