The breathless tone of the press release notwithstanding, Larry Shue's The Foreigner cannot in good conscience be called a "hilarious farce." Guileless publicity (if that is not an oxymoron) might have signalled "an intermittently smile-inducing evening," or "one of those nights when you'll tell funnier jokes at intermission." Such an assessment, however middling, might have taken the sting out of a painful experience - the experience, that is, of seeing a first-rate company and design team exercise their talents on material rather obviously beneath them.
The comedy in question takes place at a Georgia fishing lodge in "the recent past," a simpler time when Southerners - illiterate fools, all - ate breakfasts of grits and "aigs" with their "faw-werks," and responded "who's she?" when someone mentioned Malaysia. In such an atmosphere, it is no surprise when the crooked Reverend David (Bill Felix) successfully executes a plot to seize the lodge from kindly widow Betty (Barbara Blomberg). Somewhat surprising is that this man of God intends to turn the establishment into a KKK outpost. Most surprising of all, however, is that the St. Bart's Players had the audacity to stage - in the church auditorium, no less - a play with this particular kind of vermin. (It was a gutsy idea, though again the play failed to live up to its side of the ironic bargain.)
And the staging was indeed faultless. Charles Kirby's farmhouse setting mixed cozy and tacky in perfect proportion. Betty's prized spoon collection, for example, was attractively wall-mounted. David's dizzy fiance Catherine (Tracey Altman) is the sort of woman who longs to have drinks in revolving restaurants, and costume designer Mira Goldberg celebrated such quirks by clothing her in a succession of solid pantsuits (peach, green), each of which said more about Catherine than the entire script. Most impressive too was Richard Tatum's lighting design. From the opening thunderstorm to the final blackout, Tatum's work was professional, yet never showy.
The foreigner of the title is Charlie Baker (Dan Grinko), an Englishman who, for reasons not worth detailing, arrives at the lodge pretending to speak no English, only a kind of gibberish. A sort of Jonathan Winters in overgrown baby mode, Grinko had a great deal of fun with this character, and his enthusiasm was unexpectedly winning. Also in the cast were Daniel Primer as a toothless (literally) redneck, Robert Berger as a portly British army sergeant with the improbable name of Froggy LeSueur, and Ken Altman as Catherine's even-dizzier brother, who is little more than a Heehaw extra.
The KKK finally storms the lodge during the play's climax, hell-bent on renaming it a "GHQ fer White America"; a place, in other words, to plot the eradication of "dummy boys, black boys, Jew boys." Instead, the sheet-heads are themselves eradicated, by Charlie company, and victory over the Klan is swift and sweet. Harmless fun with a positive message, right? Perhaps.
Perhaps too, as Mr. Shue seems to believe, the Klan's threats are innocuous enough to warrant broad lampooning in a quaint little farce.
But, wait ... what was that sound? The clue phone ringing, maybe?
Return to Volume Four, Number Five Index
Return to Volume Four Index
Return to Home Page
Copyright 1997 Scott Vogel