Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Foreigner by Larry Shue

L - R David Clayberg, Julianna Robinson, Tanya White, Mike Niedzwiecki - Photos by SM Rep

By Joe Straw

The Foreigner by Larry Shue, directed by Sarah Gurfield, and produced by Eric Bloom and Bart Petty is now playing at The Miles Memorial Playhouse through May 20, 2017.

The Foreigner is a delightful show, a comedy, with remarkable performances by a stellar cast. And really, being a southern boy from Georgia and Tennessee one can’t help but fall in love with this cast of characters.

It’s always raining in Tilghman County, Georgia, except when it’s not, and well it’s raining tonight when Froggy (Jon Sperry) hops into the door of a dilapidated log cabin turned into a kind of notel/motel.

This is the kind of night a frog would like.  

Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur removes his jacket – he is actually looking frog-ish, wearing military fatigues – as he welcomes Charlie (Mike Niedezwiecki) into the inn.  Charlie is dress differently – in a sports jacket – they both have English accents.  (Yeah, the kind they speak in England.) Froggy sounds a little cockney (like I know) and Charlie is a little more refined.

Froggy calls out for Betty (Tanya White) but there is no answer. So, that gives him a chance to pour drinks around the house and talk about their personal issues in frog like lily pad style.   

But, Charlie is mentally fatigued.  His wife, back home in England, is in the hospital dying.  She’s expected to live another six month and Charlie doesn’t know what he is doing in Georgia for three days while his wife is breathing her last breath.  

Froggy tells him to look on the bright side, that the doctors are sometimes wrong.  He says she might pull through.

But, Charlie filled with guilt confesses their relationship has been on a rocky road.  He blames himself. He says he’s boring – a proofreader for a science fiction magazine for 27 years – and he has found out that his wife has been cheating on him.

Froggy says cheating is okay – “One little mistake” - but Charlie says it has happened over twenty three times and even in front of him.

“She flaunted them at me.” – Charlie

Be that as it may Charlie doesn’t want to stay at the hotel. Froggy says he can’t take him on the base and he has to stay put in these fine accommodations in southern Georgia.

Stuck, pusillanimous Charlie says he doesn’t want to talk to people – “Even idle conversation – terrifies me.”   So Froggy cooks up a plan to tell everyone that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn’t speak English.

Coming around, Betty greets Froggy like a long lost friend, a hug and three jumps, in keeping with his name.   She accepts the gifts of spoons from around the world.  The spoon that makes a naked lady, she'll put in the drawer. 

Betty tells Froggy her woes. She says the cabin is run down – last winter got the best of the place – the foundation is plum rotten – or says Owen Musser (Troy Dunn), a two tattooed property inspector.

Betty just wishes that she had traveled more like Froggy, and had met more foreigners.

Froggy, off the cuff, tells Betty that she has got a foreigner right here in her cabin staying with her for the next three days.

“He ain’t – he ain’t a Communist, is he?” – Betty

“Wot, ‘im? Naaow. Naaow – ‘e’s got a stock of credit cards in ‘is wallet that thick.” – Froggy

Plan in place -  the one where Froggy drops off a complete stranger, a foreigner, who doesn’t speak a drop of English - is a good one.  Froggy says his goodbyes, hops out of the lodge, and bumps into Reverend David Lee (David Clayberg) a man with a sinister plan of taking over the lodge for nefarious purposes, from two sisters, his girlfriend - a recently pregnant Catherine (Julianna Robinson) and her not so smart sister Ella (Sara Mayer).

One was getting worried during the opening moments of Sarah Gurfield’s direction with the actors performing center stage and playing out to the fourth wall.  But things began to settle down and the show took off from there.  This is a wonderful show and the Santa Monica Repertory Theater Company triumphs once again.  

Julianna Robinson and Mike Niedzwiecki

Mike Niedzwiecki plays Charlie Baker, the foreigner, a character who doesn’t want to speak, can’t speak, terrified of speaking until he learns that he really doesn’t need to speak in order to communicate. Niedzwiecki is a terrific actor who often times performs miracles.   His craft is so meticulous, and his character’s wile so infectious that he makes his fellow actors look wonderful as well.

Jon Sperry is having a lot of fun as Froggy.  One doesn’t know if it was the camouflaged costume, his eyes, or his nose that personified a frog like character.  Whatever it was, it all worked.  Sperry was as funny as all get out.

One is really amazed by the work of Julianna Robinson as Catherine. Robinson gives this character a complete turn from someone who is confused and not likeable to someone who is smart and willing to open herself to see all around her.  It is a terrific performance and an equally terrific craft.  

Sara Mayer is Ella (changed from Ellard in the original play).  Ella is a simpleton, doesn’t think she knows much, but she is much more in tuned when given the chance.  The problem is that no one gives her the chance. Mayer is very amusing in the role and really has too much fun.  

Troy Dunn created a strong choice for the roll of Owen, a well-defined character with a lot of terrific mannerisms.  But, his character appeared to step off the Third Street Promenade – the kind of character shaking a cup for coins. How that fits as a pestiferous inspector living in Georgia is anyone's guess.  One is is not quite sure how anyone in Georgia would even give this character the job of inspector.  Still, there’s some quirky stuff coming from this actor that makes him enjoyable to watch.

Tanya White is terrific as Betty a naïve individual who has got a lot more on the ball than others give her credit for.  Betty is a very giving soul who takes her job and her customers at the lodge very seriously. White has got wonderful way on stage and a very beautiful craft.

Yes, I’ve seen this character before, the slimy but sincere pettifogging preacher from the south, preaching one thing and delivering another.  David Clayberg lives and breathes the character of Reverend David Marshall Lee, the strong jawed slicked back greasy haired guy, with a very sinister and ill flattering smile and with an interesting Georgia accent to boot.  He is the southern preacher that lived up the street, preaching one day, and gone the next. It is a wonderful performance, although he didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to ditch Owen to be with his girlfriend who is lighting a candle, waiting for him.  

Sara Patterson was the female understudy but did not perform the night I was there.

Hazel Kuang, Scenic Design, gave us a very functional set, with a lot of nooks and crannies, and a virtual playground for the actors.

Other member of the crew are as follows:

James Ferrero – Sound Design
Adrienne Johnson-Lister – Stage Manager
Lauren Wemischner – Lighting Design
Maddie Keller – Costume Design
Princella Baker Jr. – Scenic, Props, and Costume Assistant
Eden Mullins – Assistant Stage Manager
Davidson & Choy Publicity – Public Relations

Run! Run! Run! And take a country boy with you, someone who appreciates the great outdoor, and is not too slimy.

No comments:

Post a Comment