There are some terrific comic performances in The Foreigner
By Larry Shue. Directed by Evan Frayne. A Pacific Theatre production. At Pacific Theatre on Friday, September 20. Continues until October 12
The Foreigner is a good ol’ yarn. And there are some terrific comic performances in this Pacific Theatre production.
The premise is that a Brit named Charlie, who’s staying at a country inn in Georgia, is so socially anxious that he’s terrified of speaking to anybody. Taking pity on him, Charlie’s friend Froggy tells the landlady that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks no English. Assuming that the newcomer can’t understand them, the other guests spew their secrets in front of Charlie, and before he knows it, he is mustache-deep in a plot that involves the Ku Klux Klan.
The Foreigner is about affirming liberal values, not challenging them. Let’s face it, if your theme is xenophobia, the Klan is a straw dog; virtually everybody can feel progressive in comparison. And it’s not as if Charlie is a member of a contentious minority; he’s a white man, for God’s sake. And Ellard, the intellectually impaired guy who lives at the inn, is as charming as a puppy—as the disabled must be in soft comedies. So, thematically, The Foreigner gives its audience an easy ride.
But Larry Shue’s script also has a big heart, and it knows how to have a good time.
In this Pacific Theatre production, Peter Carlone makes a superlative Ellard. For the past five years, Carlone has been half of the comedy duo Peter N’ Chris, and his comic timing is impeccable. His stage presence is also intriguingly—and effectively—humble. Carlone’s performance works precisely because it isn’t showy. In Carlone’s hands, Ellard’s innocence is entirely credible, which is why it’s so touching when he makes friends with Charlie and so hilarious when he calmly accepts his phenomenal success at teaching Charlie English.
Erla Faye Forsyth’s work as Betty, the innkeeper, is every bit as sincere, nuanced, and funny. As with all strong comic characterizations, Forsyth’s Betty is dedicated to her absurd world-view. Speaking of Charlie, she authoritatively explains, “He doesn’t understand English. None. Not even when it’s loud.”
John Voth is also strong as Charlie—almost balletic at times in his comic movement. And, like Carlone and Forsyth, he genuinely listens. Director Evan Frayne deserves credit for the emotional honesty that characterizes this production. There’s strong work as well from Mack Gordon (David, a preacher), Kaitlin Williams (Catherine, David’s fiancée), and Byron Noble (Owen, a redneck).
Ryan Scramstad is miscast as Froggy: he’s too young. He’s also inexperienced, so he overplays, especially—on opening night, at least—in the first scene. Hopefully, he’ll settle down as the run goes on.
Lauchlin Johnston contributes a stellar naturalistic set that finds more levels in Pacific Theatre’s limited space than I would have thought possible. And Sydney Cavanagh provides wittily detailed costumes—right down to the nylons around Betty’s ankles.