THE FOREIGNER


(l to r) Catherine Simms (Anna Bullard), “Froggy” LeSueur (Steve Irish) Ellard Simms (Aaron Wilton) and Betty Meeks (Phoebe Elinor Moyer) gather around Charlie Baker (Louis Lotorto) as he showcases his raconteur skills in San Jose Repertory Theatre’s The Foreigner.

Photo credit: Pat Kirk

THE FOREIGNER by Larry Shue and staged by Andrew Barnicle. San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio / San Jose, CA 95113-2603. 408- 367- 7255 or www.sjrep.com. August 30-September 28, 2008

GREAT CAST, HANDSOME SET, A MUST SEE SHOW

For their opening of their 2008-2009 season, soon to be under the aegis of their new Artistic Director Rick Lombardo, the San Jose Rep has assembled a virtual Who’s Who of local actors for Larry Shue’s hysterical farce/comedy “The Foreigner” that won two Obie awards, two Outer Critics Circle Awards, Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production in 1984. With Andrew Barnicle, artistic director of The Laguna Playhouse, directing and a team of Kent Dorsey (Set Designer), B. Modern (Costume Designer) and Paulie Jenkins (Lighting Designer), they have come up with a winner that is hitting on all cylinders.

What a pleasure to view a great comedy in Aristotelian construction of time, place and action with a definitive beginning, middle and end, plus a strong plot and climax near the end of the play. The plot devices are all there: information falls into unintended hands; there is an unexpected reversal of fortune; revelation that someone is not who he pretends to be and there is a return to order as the curtain falls.

Although “The Foreigner” is performed in two acts, as most modern plays are, there are distinctly three acts. We meet all the characters in act one. Enter best friends from their years in Her Majesty Services, Charlie Baker (Louis Lotorto) and “Froggy” LeSuer (Steve Irish) into a rural Georgia fishing lodge run by widow Betty Meeks (Phoebe Moyer). Pathologically shy Charlie, although cuckolded by his wife with 23 different men, still is in love and does not wish to speak with anyone. Demolition expert “Froggy”, concocts a story that Charlie is a foreigner, does not speak or understand English and Betty shouts, “Even if it’s real loud!”

Charlie accidentally overhears the “love” secrets of Catherine Simms (Anna Bullard) and Reverend David Marshall Lee (Craig Marker) and nefarious secrets of redneck Owen Musser (James Asher) and Reverend David. Slow-witted Ellard Simms (Aaron Wilton), Catherine’s brother, enters and exits with hardly a word but is given some physical shtick to define character. With all the ingredients in place, two days later in act two, there is a whirlwind of physical and verbal humor even though sinister plots and evil intentions abound. As the impending crisis looms, personality characteristics slowly bloom as a symbiotic relationship forms as the not-so-slowwitted Ellard teaches Charlie basic (very basic) English. Catherine verbally opens up to the “unhearing” Charlie and the true natures of Reverend David and Owen are laid bare.

Louis Lotorto as Charlie is hilariously perfect in his “non-speaking” parts with myriad of facial and body movements to capture your heart. In one scene, he tells a story in pantomime and non-English gibberish, making his audience “know” what he is “talking” about. Phoebe Moyer makes you believe Betty’s deep pleasure having a foreigner in her lodge because she wants more than anything to learn about the world outside Georgia, U.S.A. Aaron Wilton’s depiction of dullard Ellard teaching English to, and bonding with, Charlie is touching, yet humorous and almost believable, especially at the breakfast table with Moyer adding to the hilarity. Tall Steve Irish, dressed in camouflage clothing as “Froggy” dominates the stage with his presence but not to the detriment of his fellow actors. Anna Bullard as Catherine handles the change from a spoiled heiress and former debutante with casual ease as her attraction to Charlie unfolds. Craig Marker has the least enviable part as two faced Reverend David and does not quite envelop the character.

With all comedies, there should be a happy conclusion and it is not to be revealed here. I’ll give you a misleading clue. There is an axiom of playwriting, that if a gun appears in the first act, it will be used in the last act. A few minutes into the play, demolition expert “Froggy” demonstrates a new-fangled explosive detonator.

Kedar K. Adour, MD