Story: Charlie Baker is in the deepest of doldrums. He questions whether his job as editor for science-fiction stories is even necessary. Worse than that, his wife is in the hospital with a serious illness. If and when she recovers, there’s that matter of the 23 other men she’s slept with during their marriage. And Charlie is the first to admit that he isn’t much of a conversationalist.
His military friend Froggy LeSueur, though, has an answer for Charlie’s maladies: A brief vacation at one of Froggy’s favorite fishing hangouts in rural Georgia. He brings Charlie to the lodge of long-time friend Betty Meeks, who is being pressured to sell her place to make room for “improvements” desired by the new county tax assessor, Owen Musser. The latter is in cahoots with Rev. David Marshall Lee, whose fiancée, Catherine Simms, has inherited a fortune from her late father, who also entrusted to her the responsibility of whether to divide the estate with her slow-witted brother, Ellard, if he appears able to handle the financial obligations.
Froggy strikes upon an idea to help his hapless pal: He tells Betty that Charlie is a foreigner who neither speaks nor understands English. In the presence of this ‘foreigner,’ though, the locals begin to tell Charlie all sorts of surprising secrets, mistakenly confident in his abject confusion.
Highlights: The late Larry Shue wrote this gentle and delightful comedy shortly before his death in a plane crash in 1985. It’s equal parts silly and sweet as it shows the growing confidence of not only Charlie but several other characters held in low esteem prior to his arrival at the Meeks Fishing Lodge. Given its upbeat message and the first-rate delivery of its often raucously funny dialogue and situations in The Rep’s new presentation, The Foreigner is ideal holiday fare for everyone.
Other Info: Director Edward Stern has assembled a smoothly cohesive cast that mines Shue’s clever script for rich entertainment value under Stern’s sure-handed and pinpoint direction. The story is played out on a handsomely rustic set designed by John Ezell that features a two-story lodge complete with mounted moose head and a trap door to the unseen cellar that is pivotal to the plot.
Peter Sargent’s lighting design clearly delineates night from day through a huge window at stage left, complemented by a sound design by Rusty Wandall that includes a few pyrotechnic moments. Each of the characters is easily defined by their costumes designed by Dorothy Marshall Englis, from the post-debutante look of Catherine to Froggy’s soldier’s garb to Charlie’s pent-up look.
Although the story lags a bit in the second act as Shue throws in some clichéd and convenient arch-villains, there are more than enough engaging performances to keep an audience in stitches. The show’s best scene, e.g., features an absolutely hilarious encounter between Charlie and Ellard at the breakfast table, aided by some shrewd embellishments by Betty, which brings tear-inducing laughter.
There’s also a fitfully funny bit in the second act when Charlie tells a story in his ‘native tongue’ about a young girl’s encounter with a dangerous animal in the woods. Viewing the enchanted looks of Betty, Ellard and Catherine is as much fun as seeing the previously sad-sack Charlie shine as he performs his tale.
John Scherer does a wonderful job transforming Charlie from a meek, defeated nebbish to a confident, charming and congenial guest, excelling in the pantomime breakfast segment as well as deftly making up the role of the visitor in convincing style. He’s equaled by Casey Predovic, whose gangly, loose-limbed build is perfect for the wide-eyed, good-natured and enthusiastic Ellard, whose own self-worth is raised by his new friend’s presence.
Carol Schultz wonderfully depicts the aging lodge owner whose own life is revitalized by the adventures of learning about the customs and language of her surprising guest, even if Betty has a tendency to shout into Charlie’s ear to help him understand English. Brent Langdon is reminiscent of Michael Caine in his deft portrayal of Charlie’s dutiful friend Froggy, puzzled and perplexed upon his return to the lodge to find Charlie the center of attention.
Winslow Corbett has a nice turn as the unhappy Catherine, put into an uncomfortable fix by her fiancé, David, who in turn is given a more calibrated portrayal by Matthew Carlson than a lesser talent might convey as the duplicitous minister. Jay Smith rounds out the cast with an amusing portrayal of the oafish Owen, another villainous part that can easily slip into absurdity but instead is a bit more plausible in Smith’s interpretation.
The Foreigner still can pack a funny wallop, as evidenced by a recent revival with Matthew Broderick as well as this charming and upbeat rendition at The Rep.
Play: The Foreigner
Group: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Venue: Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: Through December 23
Tickets: From $19.50; contact 968-4925 or repstl.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Jerry Naunheim Jr.