Theater review: ‘The Foreigner’ at Arvada Center
Special to the Daily
If you go …
What: “The Foreigner,” a comedy
Where: The Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. (The Arvada Center is about an hour and 45 minutes from Vail, heading east on Interstate 70.)
When: Through Nov. 18
Cost: Performances start at $45.
More information: Visit www.arvadacenter.org.
“The Foreigner” has become something of a staple in American theater since it premiered nearly a quarter-century ago. A comedy that veers between farce and simply madcap, there’s something about this silly little play that resonates with audiences.
It’s funny — downright hilarious at times — but it also has at its core a sweetness that helps bring it back from the edge when it seems about to go over.
This play is one of two fantastic comedies written by Larry Shue in the early 1980s. He no doubt would have gone on to write many more, but a plane crash cut his life short at 39. So we’re left with “The Foreigner” and the equally nutty “The Nerd,” both of which seem to always be running somewhere in America. They’re favorites for community theaters, since they’re relatively simple to produce and have the kind of recognizable character types audiences can relate to.
‘Surrounded by Strangers’
So I was intrigued to see the Arvada Center mount a production of “The Foreigner,” directed by the highly capable Geoffrey Kent. In his hands, “The Foreigner” is true to its origins while becoming an even bigger and more active tale. With a well-wrought, two-level set depicting the Georgia hunting lodge where the action takes place, Kent has the cast use every inch of it. To accommodate the three-sided audience in the thrust stage, the actors never stop moving, even during the simplest conversations. With a particularly well-chosen cast, strong stage effects and Shue’s batty script, the result is a production that takes this little classic to another level.
At its heart, “The Foreigner” is a kind of double fish-out-of-water story, where the main character, a fragile Brit named Charlie Baker (Sammie Joe Kinnett), finds himself in a completely unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers and, on top of it, is compelled to present himself as a foreigner who can’t speak a lick of English. This provides an endless source of fascination to the lodge’s owner and host, the recently widowed Betty Meeks (Edith Weiss) as well as the dim-witted Ellard (Lance Rasmussen) and his sister, Catherine (Jessica Robblee).
As Charlie presents himself as a foreigner from some unknown country, he must pretend not to understand all of the drama and intrigue going on around him. Betty, it turns out, is in danger of losing the lodge in part due to the ministrations of the oleaginous Owen Musser (Greg Ungar), who’s conspiring with Catherine’s fiance David (Zachary Andrews). They’d like to get their hands on the lodge for some truly despicable reasons related, let’s just say, to the idea of making America great again.
Power of Connection
The question, then, is how Charlie can sound the alarm without tipping his hand that his feigned ignorance of English is an elaborate hoax. This gets harder and harder as Betty, Ellard and Catherine all find great joy in Charlie’s presence, projecting their own individual needs onto the blank canvas of Charlie’s foreignness.
For Betty, Charlie represents the exotic life she wishes she’d had as she contemplates her autumn years. Ellard starts to teach Charlie some English words, and finds a new source of pride and purpose as his star pupil progresses. And for Catherine — who’s got plenty of problems before she even finds out about David’s double dealing — he’s a confidante whom, she believes, doesn’t understand a word she says.
As wacky as the plot turns out to be, “The Foreigner” is ultimately a study in the power of connection. Every little bit of understanding eked out between Charlie and his newfound friends further establishes their bond and prepares them for the showdown ahead with the show’s villains.
In a world where the little guy doesn’t always seem to come out on top, “The Foreigner” reminds us that, as complicated as life can get, sticking together is the only way to make sense of it all.