By Pat Robbennolt
As director of The Foreigner, Weslie Webster has assembled a cast guaranteed to have the audience is gales of laughter.
Michael Ruff brings us Staff Sergeant “Froggy” LeSueur, with a fine French accent and a determination to bring his despondent friend Charlie to the most relaxing place he knows. We meet Jason Ross, as Charlie, limp and expressionless. His every movement reveals the sense of intense guilt that burdens him. Charlie has left his dying wife in the hospital. He knows she has found him boring. Her boredom with him is the reason she has had 22 affairs. He is dull. As a professional proofreader, he has been protected from relating to people. He is terrified of talking. The audience waits expectantly for the Jason Ross we know and love to emerge.
Froggy has a brilliant idea thanks to writer Larry Shue, Charlie will be saved from conversation by appearing to have no comprehension of English. Ross will be a foreigner speaking always in an incomprehensible tongue. He will demonstrate amazing listening skills. The plot is established. The hilarity begins.
Carol Irvin as Betty Meeks is owner and operator of the rustic resort in which all the action takes place. She claims to be slowing down. Neither Betty nor Irvin show any signs of that. In fact, Carol Irvin seems to have left years of her life off stage. She is ready and eager to provide a haven for Charlie. Trusting her voice to cut through his lack of comprehension of English, Betty constantly screams at Charlie. Despite his terrified eyes as she yells at him, Betty assures us she and Charlie have a special kind of “extra-circular communication.”
Bobby Taylor brings Owen Musser, the inspector to the stage. This “good ole boy” has no patience with The Foreigner or anything else that will get in the way of his plan to make big money. Eager to have the place condemned, he loudly proclaims it no longer fit for habitation. Taylor seems the incarnation of evil as he torments Charlie.
It is not often we see Britt Hancock as a villain. He becomes the smooth and devious Rev. David Marshall Lee who cannot be trusted. His goal is to be in control of the fortune his “beloved” Catherine Simms is set to inherit. Lauren Marshall brings us Catherine, a combination of innocence and toughness. She is not ready to be a preacher's wife and a mother. She wants to trust her fiancé but she is troubled. She has no one in whom she can confide. That is, until she meets Charlie. Charlie, assumed to be unable to understand English, has been privy to all the conversations flowing around him. As a skilled listener, he understands. After all, no one has been careful what they say in the presence of The Foreigner. “He cannot understand a word we say,” they agree. As always, Ross, in the role of Charlie, brings the epitome of amazing facial expressions and physical gyrations.
Daniel Black has the outstanding ability to play a full range of characters, from the father of the family in Smoke on the Mountain to Ellerd Simms. This younger brother of Catherine is destined to be left out of the family inheritance due to his intellectual challenges. Black plays Ellerd as not understanding the good Reverend's efforts to prove him just plain stupid. Black is hilarious as he takes on the task of teaching English to Charlie. Ross and Black have worked together at the Playhouse since 1996. This production gives them one of their best opportunities to play off one another to the delight of the audience.
Black plays Ellerd as fascinated by The Foreigner. Whether each one is balancing a glass on his head, or The Foreigner learning the names of household objects or items brought in from outside by the dedicated Ellerd, this teacher-student pair brings peals of laughter from the audience. Black/Ellerd sits at the feet of Charlie/Ross with hilarious dedication to every unintelligible word spoken.
Yes, the Playhouse has done this show before. The opportunity for an evening of laughter that awaits you should not be missed. Rated G, the child in all of us will enjoy it. The Foreigner runs through April 25 on the mainstage. Do call 484-5000 for your tickets. You will be glad you did.