Vagabond Players presents vibrant production of 'The Foreigner'

In the canon of stage comedies, Larry Shue's "The Foreigner" may not rank in the uppermost percentile, but there sure is something awfully likable about it.

The work has been widely and frequently performed since its off-Broadway premiere in 1984, a year before the playwright's death in a plane crash at the age of 39. It offers abundant opportunities for actors -- there really is no small part -- and a plot that manages to combine wacky humor with unexpectedly dark edges.

There's a sturdy revival on "The Foreigner" on the boards now at the Vagabond Players. It's one of those productions that gives community theater in this town a very good name.

Betty Meeks' Fishing Lodge Resort in Tilghman County, Georgia, is never quite the same after the arrival of an extraordinary guest. Make that extra-ordinary.

He's Charlie Baker, a proofreader who leads a terribly boring life. He has decided to get a break from his routine in England (and from his wife's supposed illness) by visiting the States with his buddy, "Froggy" LeSueur, a British army demolitions expert doing guest training at a military base.

Seeking to be left alone after being left off at the lodge, Charlie feigns foreignness, pretending not to speak a word of English. But that only seems to encourage everyone he meets, from sweet hotel owner Betty to sinister county property inspector Owen.

The upside is that Charlie hears lots of important stuff, since folks assume he can't follow what they're saying, and eventually discovers that he's "acquiring a personality." Along the way, he realizes a kindly preacher at the hotel is anything but, that the Klan lurks just around the corner.

Things get pretty silly and contrived at times. If it weren't for Shue's knack for creating colorful characters and for giving familiar situations fresh little twists, "The Foreigner" might wear out its welcome quickly. But the plot strands get connected in clever fashion, and, even the spooky stuff that creeps into the picture somehow works.

Director Steve Goldklang has the action unfolding at a good clip on a nicely detailed set, and he gets a cohesive effort from the cast.

Eric. C. Stein does a solid turn as Charlie, making the transition from sad sack to impish plotter with a good deal of flair. He has quite the field day with one of the play's cleverest bits, when Charlie narrates -- in his made-up "foreign" language -- what appears to be "Little Red Riding Hood."    

Carol Evans easily conveys Betty's down-home charm and heart-of-gold inclinations, and she can be awfully funny yelling at Charlie in the belief that it will help him learn English faster. The actress is especially impressive during the tense moments in the second act; she makes you sense just how vulnerable Betty really is.

Amanda Gatewood makes a vibrant, sympathetic Catherine, fiancee to smooth-talking Rev. Lee, portrayed by David Shoemaker with an effective edge. Tavish Forsyth is persuasive and endearing as Catherine's slow-witted brother Ellard.

Ian Bonds (Froggy) and Steven Shriner (Owen) offer plenty of personality to round out this consistently entertaining production.

"The Foreigner" runs through May 18.


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