Monday, November 24, 2014

Applause! Applause! Review of The Parkside Players' production of The Foreigner at Grace Lutheran Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Parkside Players' production of "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue at Grace Lutheran Church (Forest Hills) was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Foreigner
The Parkside Players
Grace Lutheran Church (103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills, NY)
Reviewed 11/22/14

The Foreigner was written by American Playwright Larry Shue. Following its premiere in Milwaukee, the play opened on November 1, 1984 at New York City's Astor Place Theatre where it ran for 686 performances. The play eventually won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards, including the John Gassner Playwriting Award and the Award for Best Off-Broadway Production. Larry Shue died at age 39 on September 23, 1985 in the crash of a Beech 39 commuter plane, not living to see the continued popularity of The Foreigner. On November 7, 2004, the Roundabout Theatre Company revived The Foreigner at the Off-Broadway Laura Pels Theatre where it ran for ten weeks. Larry Shue's most popular plays include The Nerd and The Foreigner, both comic farces he wrote while a playwright-in-residence at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

This play revolves around Charlie Baker, a meek proofreader for a science fiction magazine whose adulterous wife thinks is boring. Mary, who has six months to live, has cheated on Charlie twenty-three times proudly announcing each indiscretion to humiliate him. Staff Sergeant "Froggy" LeSueur, a British Army explosives expert and Guest Instructor at a United States Army Base, has brought his buddy Charlie to a lodge in rural Georgia for a three-day holiday to escape from the stress of dealing with the illness of his wife, whom he still loves. Since Charlie doesn't feel up to speaking to anyone due to social anxiety, Froggy tells Betty Meeks, the resort lodge owner, that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn't understand or speak a word of English. At first, Charlie doesn't want to go along with the ruse but after he inadvertently overhears Catherine Simms, a wealthy heiress, tell her boyfriend, Rev. David Marshall Lee (a distant relative to General Robert E. Lee), that she is pregnant, he feels it best to go along with the plan. What is hilarious about this farce is how each of the characters in the play interact with this non-English speaking foreigner. Betty Meeks, the lodge owner, treats Charlie as if he's an exotic animal all the time speaking in a loud voice as if he were deaf. Catherine Simms takes long walks with Charlie and treats him as her confidante. Ellard Simms, Catherine's mentally challenged younger brother, takes pride in teaching Charlie new English words. The Rev. David Marshall Lee is highly suspicious of who Charlie really is and Owen Musser, a superstitious, dangerous racist hates foreigners and ultimately calls in the KKK to address the issue. There is a sub-plot about Rev. Lee and Owen conspiring to condemn the lodge and to use Catherine's money to buy it at a greatly reduced price in order to make it the new headquarters and capital of The Invisible Empire but you can rest assured that with the help of the foreigner, everyone will get their just rewards. Even poor Charlie may develop a new personality in the end. 

The Foreigner is a very well-written play with plenty of laughs. You could argue over whether the more serious sub-plot is gratuitous or an essential element of the broad range of reactions this "foreigner" encounters and you can debate whether some of the farcical elements of the play are too outrageous to have been included, but overall, I felt the play hit just the right balance between comedy and satire. So what if sometimes Charlie breaks out into a Chicken Dance or repeats the phrase Klaatu barada nikto, which was from the 1951 science fiction film The Day The Earth Stood Still. It's all in good fun!

Bill Meaney, the one-time minor league shortstop, who enjoyed a half-season call-up to the Washington Senators during the season they last won the AL pennant, is perfectly cast as Charlie Baker. He brings just the right balance to the role. Kieran (JK) Larkin, who won a Josephine Foundation Award for Best Performance by a Teenage Actor for playing the Young Son Edgar in Ragtime, is extremely believable as the mentally challenged Ellard Simms. Their scenes together on stage are some of the highlights of the show. Stephen J. Ryan, who is a playwright himself and a teacher of history and advanced placement economics at Leon M. Goldstein High School in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, is a very charismatic actor with a strong stage presence. With him as Rev. David Marshall Lee, you could actually believe the South had a chance to rise again. Unfortunately, and this is not the actor's fault, it is less believable that Rev. Lee is a secret leader of the KKK hellbent on creating a new Christian, all White Nation free of Jews, Catholics, Negroes and Foreigners. His dialogue just doesn't reflect that he holds such views. Robert Aloi is well-suited to play Owen Musser, the true dim-witted, narrow-minded, Georgia Cracker in the play. Lori Ann Santopetro shines as Betty Meeks. Jimmy O'Neill successfully portrays "Froggy", who sometimes puts Charlie on the spot making me wonder how close a friend he really is to him. Krissy Garber is a very talented actress who portrays Catherine Simms, a character you will find far more likable in the second half of the play. 

To highlight the lack of worldliness of Betty Meeks, the playwright included a line where Froggy says to her, "It reminds me a lot of Malaysia" and she responds, "Who's she?". By getting pregnant before marriage, Catherine Simms is learning you can't unstuff a turkey or unring a bell. While reading an article about this year's debutantes, she says, "They're coming out. The catch is you don't get to go back in." Charlie described himself as being Betty's "pet skunk," Ellard's "prized pupil," and Catherine's "confessor." When all is revealed, Ellard asks, "David, sheet head?", to which Catherine responds, "Yes, shit head!." Larry Shue's best line, which pretty much sums up the meaning of the play, is when one character says, "Nobody is like him" and the retort is, Nobody is like anybody!"

I highly recommend you go to see The Parkside Players' production of Larry Shue's The Foreigner. It is a highly engaging entertaining comedy and an audience pleaser. It is a fun show with an excellent cast. Reasonably priced concession items are available before the show begins and during intermission. Tickets cost $17.00 ($15.00 for seniors). The price is right for a quality evening of entertainment!

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