“The Foreigner” exceeds expectations

What could possibly happen when a shy Englishman visits a fishing lodge in Georgia? This year, the BC theater department put on Larry Shue’s staple farce “The Foreigner” for the annual spring play. Although elements of the 1984 script could feel dated, director and English teacher Mrs. Honore Shiro guided the production into delivering a lot of laughs. The cast relished their roles and used their energy and enthusiasm to successfully run the show from April 22 to 25, and April 29 to May 2.

The plot is indeed absurd, but not gratingly. British military Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur, played by an exemplary Shea Senger (‘15), is consulting for a nearby U.S. base, and he has brought along his depressed, introverted friend Charlie Baker, played by an admirable Landon Quinney (‘15), to a Georgia fishing lodge for a three-day stay. “I enjoyed portraying my character greatly, and honestly I think he was a great fit for myself,” Senger commented. “Very sociable around his friends, always loves to crack a joke and make people laugh, just everything about the character was appealing to me. Personally, I looked up a bunch of tutorials online of how to perform a British Cockney accent.”

Since the dull Charlie believes he lacks a personality and refuses to interact with other guests while he’s vacationing, he has no choice but to use a ruse concocted by Froggy. In this sturdy comic turn, Froggy tells the other guests that Charlie is “a foreigner” and does not speak or understand English. Although Froggy’s plan was designed to help Charlie be left alone, it backfires when Betty Meeks, the delightfully sweet and adorable lodge owner portrayed by Sophie Michalski (’18), begin shouting at, confessing their problems to, and plotting out their illegal schemes in front of Charle. As part of the deception, Charlie’s country of origin and its language are never specified, which allows him to babble nonsense syllables that appeal to the toddler-humor that lingers in all of us.

Much of the comedy comes from the strength of the actors. Quinney smartly underplays the meek character of Charlie so there’s more comedic payoff when the nebbish bloke gradually transforms into a courageous and fascinating raconteur. John McCloskey (‘15) offhandedly makes the half-wit role of Ellard Simms, who blossoms with confidence in Charlie’s presence, endearing. Smooth-talking preacher and the holier-than-thou minister Rev. David Marshall Lee (Eric Brown ‘18) is engaged to a sweet-tempered, yet wealthy ex-debutante Catherine Simms (double casted by Emily Lambert and Margaret Selkey ’16 who both add a feisty edge to the fun role), sister of Ellard. David offered to buy Betty’s lodge, now that the city’s redneck inspector and his secret ally, Owen Musser (Kevin Fuller ‘17), has had it condemned. Only the mostly mute Charlie knows that the Rev. Lee and Owen are Ku Klux Klan members in cahoots to steal Betty’s property and Catherine’s fortune.

Determined to set things right, Charlie begins quickly “learning English” from the simple-minded youngster Ellard, and sets up a series of double-crosses to thwart the plot. It’s a classic of verbal irony: The word “fork,” Ellard patiently explains, has two parts, “fo-werk.” Another lovely set piece has Charlie and a mentally slow young man named Ellard Simms mirroring each other as they eat a meal. They move from raising forks in tandem to balancing juice glasses on their heads. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. One of the funnier scenes is Charlie’s dramatic retelling of what seems to be the story of Little Red Riding Hood, involving quite a lot of improvising and wild arm movements in complete gibberish. Blasny, blasny!

Equally hilarious is a prolonged scene in which Charlie toys with Owen, who’s holding a map of Georgia while Charlie demonstrates the distance to his home. When Justice portrays Charlie’s ability to play on Owen’s gullibility by acting as if he’s possessed – the reactions to Fuller’s embarrassment are as priceless as Quinney’s ridiculously bombastic threats and crazed demeanor.

Eventually, the play turns melodramatic with the Ku Klux Klan, but of course the whole plot gives way when the audience can’t sit still with their laughs. The physical stage is outstanding with a gorgeously painted lodge by the cast, with an especially eye-catching staircase to a second story of the backdrop. Even the opening scenes with lighting and water streaking the lodge’s windows evoked a well-done realistic thunderstorm.

“This was my first spring play here at central, but … it was a highlight of my 4 years here,” Senger added, “I really loved spending time with everyone, and it seemed like everyone felt the same way. We all got along, and we spent a lot of time backstage joking and kidding around with each other… I couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew to end my theater performance run here at BC.”

In addition to the scenery, the Georgia Mountain Bluegrass Band added beautiful music and vocals before, during intermission, as well as original The Foreigner Theme Song written by BC’s own Grace Eimerman (‘18) and Kristen Meier (‘16). Guided by Meier, a few of the young ladies who auditioned for the show, but could not be casted due to the limited female roles, formed this band in order to complement the overall production. Meier, the head of the band as well as the tambourinist, commented, “It was such a unique and creative idea on Mrs. Schiro’s part to organize a band. I really enjoyed getting to know the other girls and was very impressed with the outcome of our sound. Nobody quite knew what to expect when they agreed to play in the Georgia Hills band, but the outcome was fabulous.”

In the end, Shue’s farce may hold a deeper meaning about how anyone can become the person they want to be. The overall production was “remarkable,” with the humor pushed to a high level, but never slipping out of control. As with all good comedies, The Foreigner was sorted out well. “This year’s spring play is hilarious!” Abby Ng, the cellist in the band, exclaimed, “All aspects of the play (the actors, the props, the set, the lighting, and the music) came together to create a really entertaining show. I also think The Foreigner’s message of acceptance is very relevant for today’s society.”