2nd Star Production’s The Foreigner
The lines of communication were abuzz all last week as first an earthquake and then a hurricane shook up our complacency. Natural phenomena often herald unwelcome change, and so it is in 2nd Star’s latest comedy about language, Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, which opens as a thunderstorm, ushers two Brits into backwoods Georgia, home of Southern hospitality and small-minded xenophobes.
This award-winning show played to critical acclaim at the Bay Theatre last winter. 2nd Star’s The Foreigner, with its accent on humor, is just as winning. Fine acting, staging and special effects complement the director’s delightful sense of playfulness on the subject of miscommunication.
Americans see foreigners in two ways — exotic or strange, friends or foes — and language, or how we perceive it, accounts for much of our interpretation. Language is our most powerful tool. We use it to confide and cajole, educate and entertain, disrupt and disguise. Without a common language, we are reduced to charades, mimicry, reflective silences and imagination — and we hear what we want to hear, good or bad.
This storm blows in a British munitions expert, Froggy (Tim Sayles), who is a favorite guest at Betty’s (Barbara Webber) hunting lodge. He comes on business regularly to teach American soldiers how to blow stuff up in the woods, and this time he brings a friend in need, Charlie (Steve English). Poor Charlie is a tongue-tied dullard, downtrodden by life and in need of some solitary R&R. But when Froggy discovers other guests will be present during his extended absence, he concocts a story to safeguard Charlie’s privacy, claiming he is a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of English. The foreigner becomes Betty’s greatest delight in an otherwise joyless spell as money troubles darken the future of her establishment.
Charlie’s perceived inability to communicate affects each guest differently as he progresses from accidental eavesdropper to confidant and friend, discovering volumes about each confessor in the process.
To anxious socialite Catherine (Erin Lorenz) he is a sympathetic ear privy to her innermost fears regarding her impending marriage to David (Devin Wootton), a man of the cloth who sports a white collar by day and a secret white hood by night. To David, Charlie is an audience for his evil schemes to rob Catherine and her half-wit brother Ellard (Steve Love) of their inheritance. To Ellard, Charlie is a playmate and prize pupil. The interplay between these two accounts for some of the show’s funniest moments when a lesson in table etiquette evolves into English instruction, for which Charlie shows remarkable aptitude. The ruse frees his inner actor, and Charlie the raconteur of broken English becomes as popular as Charlie the shy Brit was unpopular.
The villainous property inspector Owen (Ken Kienas) — who is David’s redneck buddy — has the most pointed reaction to the stranger. Foreigner baiting ain’t pretty or politically correct, but when Charlie later turns the tables with his barely intelligible gibberish, it’s hilarious. But as in real life, bully baiting is a dangerous game, especially when the victim is part of the Ku Klux Klan.
Brotherhood triumphs over hate when the under-armed group of friends joins forces in an ingenious plot, with Froggy arriving in the nick of time to ensure success.
In Charlie’s made-up language, the phrase blosny blosny means “ain’t that nice,” and This Foreigner is. The cast is uniformly excellent. Even the most novice felt as real as long-cooking grits. Opening night, jitters aside, was a well-attended hit followed by two cancelled performances due to the weather. So this weekend’s energy should be extra high.
Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Joanne Wilson and Wingard. Lights and sound: Garrett Hyde.
Playing thru Sept. 10 at 8pm Th-Sa; 3pm Su Sept 4 at 2nd Star Productions at Bowie Playhouse, 165000 White Marsh Dr., Bowie. $20 with discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.