A dying wife and the some Klan members might not seem likely plot occurrences in a play that can be described as feverishly outrageous, but add a touch of sentimentally, an irreverent exploration of southern accents, one zany complication after the next, some Scooby Doo-style hijinks and you’ve got yourself ‘The Foreigner’.
As penned by the late playwright Larry Shue, ‘The Foreigner’ marks Bunbury Theatre’s final production of its 25th Anniversary season, transforming the intimate 144 seat theatre into a rustic vacation lodge in rural Georgia. The award winning play sees British Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur, played by Matt Orme with an old-empire elephant-gun-toting pop, return to the lodge for his yearly assignment on loan to the American military, accompanied this time by civilian friend Charlie Baker (Ted Lesley). Serving as a three day respite from the constant care of his terminal wife, the clinically shy Charlie is so adverse to the idea of relaxation and human interaction that it’s easy to wonder how he was coaxed to come along at all. With Charlie on the cusp of a full mental breakdown at the thought of conversing with actual strangers, Froggy devises a convenient lie to serve as a polite justification for a grown man who wishes total isolation. He tells struggling lodge owner Betty Meeks (Alice Chiles) that his companion speaks not a word of English and that he’s exceedingly embarrassed by it. Things do not go according to plan.
Morally torn over the situation, Charlie’s first instinct is to flee, especially with the delightfully over-eager Betty constantly screaming into his ear (as if to make him better understand her), but as Charlie becomes privy to intimate overheard knowledge of southern belle heiress Catherine Simms (Neleigh Olson) and her fiance Rev. David Marshall Lee (Ty Leitner), the lie becomes more and more difficult to escape. Everything changes as Charlie develops a friendship, at first completely unspoken, with Catherine’s unassuming half-wit of a brother Ellard Simms, played as a charming young Forrest Gump by Neil Brewer. What begins as a precious monkey see, monkey do sequence over breakfast blossoms into a brotherly bond that has Ellard teaching Charlie English with a heavy southern inflection and general blissful adventure.
The change in Charlie’s character is at first difficult to interpret, but Ted Lesley handles it brilliantly. In the beginning it’s unclear whether or not his affable attitude towards Ellard is genuine, but as Lesley channels a childlike enthusiasm a la Austrian actor Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Water for Elephants), it’s clear that he has become a man unchanged from all his inhibitions. Having fully accepted the role written for him by Froggy, his relationship with Ellard, Betty and Catherine only deepens as he fleshes out his ‘foreign’ characters’ personality, and his own by extension. But contentment can’t last forever, and when Charlie discovers that the seemingly pious Reverend and his associate, county property inspector Owen Musser, an intolerant money-grubber well-crafted by Dan Bullington, are up to something devious, he must devise a way to stop them by empowering those around him.
‘The Foreigner’ is an entertaining yet self-contemplative lark that gets funnier as it goes. Indeed, it flows with a building sense of humor that can’t be characterized by any one interaction, but grows instead over the course of the narrative, ebbing and flowing into moments of pure hilarity. Those able to buy into the wacky premise will walk away from ‘The Foreigner’ with a smile and a snicker. Highly recommended for couples, ‘The Foreigner’ continues its run at the Bunbury through June 26th.
Interested parties can find more information at Bunbury’s website.