SANDRA ALBERS/Special to the Townsman
The Cranbrook Community Theatre production of The Foreigner, on stage this month at the Studio Stage Door, is a revival for David Stock, who first directed the play by Larry Shue in 1989. Mind you, if my math skills aren’t too rusty, that was 25 years ago (my, how time flies on the local theatre scene), and all I can say is, it’s about time.
It’s great that this play is on the boards again because (a) it’s a brilliantly written comedy and (b) the current cast of The Foreigner brings it so beautifully to life.
Jeff Cooper plays the titular foreigner, Charlie Baker, a pathologically shy nerd of a man, who is taking a short vacation at a rural fishing lodge in Georgia, USA. His army buddy, Froggy Lesueur (Jerrod Bondy), has talked him into it, and has also concocted a rather ridiculous scheme to save Charlie from having to make conversation with the other guests. Charlie is passed off as a man who doesn’t speak English, and then the fun begins.
Marge Kemp plays Betty Meeks, the lodge owner and quintessential American with a heart of gold who figures that if you just talk LOUD enough, the person you’re talking to will figure out what you mean, language barrier notwithstanding.
Sean Swinwood and Jennifer Inglis play lodge guests the Rev. David Marshall Lee and his fiancee, Catherine Sims, who are dealing with, shall we say, a few relationship problems.
Then there’s Barry Coulter as property inspector Owen Musser, a proper good ol’ boy whose neck, I swear, gets redder and redder as the play progresses.
Mount Baker Grade 11 students Mitchell Graw and Harrison Ford more than hold their own with the rest of the cast as, respectively, Ellard Sims (Catherine’s younger brother) and Cleatus Wiggins, Ellard’s buddy who comes complete with coonskin cap.
Rounding out the cast are Sean Cloarec and Patrick Bondy as a couple of anonymous townspeople.
Charlie, at first reluctant to play along with Froggy’s silly scheme, gradually starts to enjoy playing mind games with his fellow guests. The guests, meanwhile, find themselves spilling all kinds of secrets in their mistaken belief that Charlie can’t understand what they’re saying anyway.
This is one of the funniest plays I’ve ever seen, but the humour isn’t of the cheap laughs variety. Rather, the play is warm and engaging, and comes with a message about tolerance and understanding that is as relevant in 2014 as it was when the play was first produced. If we’re honest, we all need to overcome our fears of the other, whatever shape or form that other might take.
The entire production zips along nicely, but I have to mention two especially remarkable scenes. The first takes place at the breakfast table, when Ellard and Cleatus start teaching Charlie the rudiments of the English language. I won’t say any more (no spoiler alerts in this review), except that it had the audience, especially the younger kids, in stitches. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a game of copycat will relate to this scene.
The other scene I loved has Jeff Cooper at his most brilliant, telling a story in his own (supposedly) native language. It might be gibberish, but it’s amazing how far body language can take you.
I should mention that there are one or two scenes in the second act of The Foreigner that are quite chilling, all the more effective given that the play is primarily a comedy.
The Foreigner is also a play about transformation. A dull man discovers that he isn’t so dull after all; a possibly slow-witted boy discovers that he’s smarter than he thinks; an older woman finds her somewhat prosaic life enlivened by the stranger in her midst; and a young woman discovers that the people who speak your language aren’t always the ones who listen best.
A final word about the set, designed by David Stock and Kirsten Taylor; it adds a wonderful ambience to the play, complete with faux wood panelling, plaid wallpaper and duck decoys.
The Foreigner plays April 3 to 5, April 9 to 12 and April 16 to 19, 7:30 p.m. nightly at the Studio Stage Door.
Don’t be a stranger.
In her day job at Koocanusa Publications, Sandra Albers has something in common with The Foreigner; they both toil as proofreaders. But she doesn’t find the job dull. Honestly.