- Greggory Moore
“How does one go about acquiring a personality,” Charlie (David Lawrence) wonders. His dying wife finds him “shatteringly, profoundly boring,” which he regards as reason enough to forgive how she’s flaunted her 23 extramarital affairs. Now she’s ordered him away from her deathbed, so Charlie has accompanied army buddy Froggy (Don Schlossman) across the Pond for a few days of rest and relaxation in rural Georgia. But lately Charlie’s crisis of conscience has manifested as a fear of talking, so nothing will be less relaxing than staying with strangers in Meeks’ Fishing Lodge. But Froggy has a brainstorm: What if they pass Charlie off as a non-English-speaker? Surely he’ll be left in peace, right?
Some of what follows is predictable, and none of it’s deep. But Larry Shue’s The Foreigner is a farce by design, and a relatively funny one that Little Fish Theatre plays for all it is worth.
The Foreigner will fail if the audience doesn’t buy in to its protagonist, but Lawrence brings us into the fun Charlie has as a misidentified fish out of water. We like Charlie, and we share his pleasure at the unexpected bond he forms with the simpleminded, ebullient Betty Meeks (Madeline Drake) and a sibling tandem of fellow boarders. “I think I’m acquiring a personality,” Charlie confides to Froggy. “People just seem to hand it to me piece by piece when I walk into the room.”
The siblings are two of those people. Catherine (Heather L. Tyler), only recently removed from simpler times as a debutante, finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by David (Chance Dean), a young, nefarious hypocrite of a preacher about whom she is having misgivings, which she confides to Charlie, believing he cannot understand her. But over the course of two days her underachieving brother Ellar (Trip Langley) has remarkable success teaching Charlie English. (Foreign Charlie showing his progress by reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is particularly cute.) Each of the supporting cast members serves the material well.
Unlike most farce, which isn’t very good, Shue’s dialog is quirky enough and his action plotted carefully enough (how many farceurs can work in Ku Klux Klansmen as characters?) that even someone not usually tickled by the genre (ahem) stays relatively engaged. “It’s mysterious, idn’t it,” marvels Betty early on at her supposed ability to interpret Charlie’s intent, “the way I can just kinda read your brain-thoughts coming out?” From “brain-thoughts” to how Shue teases early details into paying off, The Foreigner exhibits something that even the lowest, simplest art form should display: craft. Director David Graham gets that, and he lovingly pilots his cast through Shue’s cute little tale of misadventure. His sound design is a little weak, but he gets extra credit for altering a couple of lines to make a contemporary political statement.
The Foreigner isn’t going to change your life. It’s probably not even going to stick with for five minutes after you leave the theater. But sometimes all you want is a two-hour diversion from the world outside. Such plays have their place. And if you’re going to do one, you may as well do it right. Like this.
The Foreigner at Little Fish Theatre
Time and Cost: Fri-Sat 8pm from June 24 & July 15; Sun 2pm • $15–$25 through July 15
Details: (310) 512-6030, Littlefishtheatre.org
Venue: 777 Centre St., San Pedro