Tacoma Little Theatre, the oldest continually performing theatre west of the Mississippi River, opened its 100th Season with “The Foreigner” by Larry Shue.
This seemingly innocuous tale starts off in the 1980’s with British Army S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur entering a fishing lodge in Tilghman County, Georgia. A few hesitant steps behind the Cockney lad, is Charlie Baker, Froggy’s commanding officer during the war, who is now an editor for a science fiction magazine. Froggy, still in the army, is a trainer for bomb building and maintenance, which gives him a chance to travel around the world to military facilities on service transport and is able to take a retired army friend with him.
Charlie has been having some problems with his adulteress wife, whom he still dearly loves. She is in the hospital and may die, so Froggy decides to take Charlie away for a three-day R and R. Charlie reluctantly agrees to the trip but is fraught with timidity and now wishes he had not come.
“My wife thinks I’m boring,” says Charlie. Froggy is in disbelief. “No,” admits Charlie, “I am boring.”
That was when the audience opened up with the first laugh and it just kept coming and coming.
When Froggy says there will be other guests for the weekend, Charlie confesses that’s impossible. He says he cannot talk with other people; he gets tongue-tied and gets sick. Froggy says he won’t have to talk to anyone. Froggy will tell everyone Charlie is a foreigner from some obscure country and speaks no English.
This resort belongs to a boisterous gentle southern lady, Betty Meeks, who has lived in this ultimate back-woods part Georgia all of her 70ish years. She travels vicariously through small gifts from Froggy, mainly collector’s spoons, from far away exotic places like Canada, Taiwan, Tijuana – Oh, my! As with many people, when they are told that someone doesn’t speak English, they shout the words slower and louder; thus, Betty elicits more laughs.
Charlie is left alone in the living room when Catherine Simms a young heiress enters the dinning area; she is followed by her fiancé Rev. David Marshall Lee. Turning to the man of the questionable cloth, Catherine announces, “I’m pregnant!” and the fight and laughs again abound. The funniest thing is while the two are raging on, Charlie, unseen by the pair, tries to hide on the couch – under a throw cushion, behind his arms, trying to shrink his rather large frame into invisibility – to no success.
The two intended are panicky until Betty comes in and says that Charlie doesn’t speak English, again at the top of her voice; the couple leave when Betty calls Catherine’s younger, slow-witted brother Ellard to breakfast with Charlie. Ellard starts teaching Charlie English; Charlie teaches Ellard gibberish of his country. Both are quick learners.
The not-so-good reverend is alone in the living room as Charlie is still at breakfast when in walks Owen Musser, the town property inspector. This red-neck racist is so dirty, his clothes could stand in the corner without him in them – all except for the white outfit he shares with his Grand Wizard, David Duke. The two dirty, rotten scoundrels discuss Owen’s plans to condemn the lodge so he and the reverend can pick it up for a song and turn it into a meeting hall for the Klan.
The rest of the play has Charlie leading Betty and Ellard in an outlandish concept to foil the villainous plans of the dreadful duo. Charlie comes up with an idea, which proves he’s not so shy and boring as some thought him to be. Charlie carries it through, with help from Ellard, proving he is not quite the dullard all think him to be; Betty shows she is young at heart. Froggy lends a hand showing his prowess in his “blow ‘em up” expertise. Even Catherine happily joins in the complicity against her used-to-be intended, and the audience continues laughing.
This very hysterical flight of whimsy is quite ably directed by Casi Pruitt, who, after weeks of rehearsals, still practically falls on the floor laughing during the show. Pruitt does a very good job of bringing her feelings for this comic creation to fruition. The director has an able crew to help achieve her goal.
Blake R. York does one of his terrific, realistic sets, which is so workable for the actors’. Jeffery Weaver dresses the set true to the business it represents. Michele Graves does costumes, which are right in keeping with the styles of the era. Niclas Olson does the lighting design, which includes some off-stage special effects. Chris Serface does a very good sound design, which includes a lot of rain. Alyshia Collins is Stage Manager, who keeps the whole thing going at a break-neck speed.
Pruitt has chosen an excellent cast, who have developed there characters to perfectly match the playwright’s description of them.
Cody Wyld Flowers is Rev. David Marshall Lee, the man of God (or is he) with a white sheet hidden in his cut-out bible. Flowers makes Lee a very lovable, conniving liar with nary a true word in his vocabulary; he constantly sports a supercilious smile on his cheating face.
Caiti Burke is Catherine Simms, the recent heiress. Unfortunately, she has also inherited a worthless fiancé about whom she has second thoughts. Simms makes Catherine an awakening, simple woman who is finally seeing the light about her once-love. Simms really shines when she becomes involved with thwarting the invasion of the KKK during Act II.
Brian Cox bursts on the scene as the villainous, racist, red-neck, generally bad guy, Owen Musser – and he is terrific! One almost feels like booing the villain out loud. Cox turns an, oh, so believable character of the evil KKK follower. Actually, Cox is downright scary because he makes us remember that there are actually people like that.
Jen Aylsworth makes Betty Meeks come alive with a realistic copy of the resort owner trying her best to keep up with her duties, while trying to ignore her aging ailments. Her back-woods, Georgian accent is perfect and every time she opens her mouth to shout advice to her foreign guest, the audience roars.
Mikel Michener snaps to attention as S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur. The PLU graduate, who had the good fortune to study theater under Bill Becvar, returns to TLT after a 15-year hiatus. Michener has lost none of his acting prowess during his absence. His stage presents is obvious from the actor’s first step on the boards; his accent is pure and his character is beautifully developed. Don’t stay away so long again.
Charlie Stevens is Ellard Simms. This Rogers High School senior turns a remarkably developed character of the none too-bright brother of our heroine. Stevens emulates the special needs young man who, it turns out, has more on the ball than people realize. His body movements are exaggerated and precise; his voice is slow and halting. In short, Stevens is perfect in the role.
Blake R. York is our shy guy, Charlie Baker. York has his work cut out for him in this production. Not only does he do the set for this show, he also designed the set for “Newsies,” the current production at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, and has done a superb job on the character of the lead in this show. As they say, if you want something done, ask a busy person. York appears on stage like a frightened turtle with head drawn into its carapace, shuffling his feet as well as his words, exuding his timidity. As the play progresses, this seasoned actor slowly emerges from his cocoon and eventually becomes the ferocious Monarch Butterfly Charlie was meant to be. The hatching process starts out slowly then progresses to a crescendo of victory with York standing on the coffee table, at the top of his lungs cursing the evil doers with those immortal words, the great solver of all problems universal: Klatu! Barada! Nikto!
“The Foreigner” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through Sunday, September 30 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee Sundays. A special “Pay-What-You-Can” performance is scheduled for Thursday, September 27 at 7:30 p.m.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
We all know that it’s not nice or polite to laugh at a person because he is different than we are; has a funny accent or gestures. However, this is one “Foreigner” that it’s permissible to laugh at, in fact Pruitt hopes the audience can’t stop laughing “until the tears roll down their cheeks.”
Remember, when you wipe your eyes to look a bit beyond the laughter and see the meaning of the story as Charlie puts it when formulating his plan to defeat the villains: “Separately, we are single people but together, we are as four.”
Experience “The Foreigner” at Tacoma Little. Make it a night to unite! As with so many things in our lives, unity will defeat evil.