In the mood for a few laughs this holiday season? If so, think about heading to the Repertory Theater of St. Louis for their current production of Larry Shue’s classic farce, The Foreigner.
As in all farce, the simple story is quite complicated – so here goes: Charlie, a socially-anxious science fiction editor from London, is in a funk. His beloved, but philandering wife is in hospital, with only a few months to live. His best pal, Froggy, a military demolitions expert, brings Charlie along on assignment to the good ol’ U. S. of A. – hoping that a little R and R in a small B and B in rural Georgia will help him cheer up. The inn’s proprietor, Betty, has problems of her own. She fears that the town’s new building inspector, Owen Musser, plans to shut her down. She may have to sell to the good Rev. David Lee, who is staying at the inn, along with his fiancée, southern heiress Catherine and her simple brother Ellard. Upon learning that there will be other guests at the hotel, and that he may have to actually talk to them, shy Charlie has a mini-anxiety attack. Froggy comes up with the perfect solution – he tells everyone that they cannot communicate with Charlie, , because he is “as foreign as the day is long”, and cannot speak a word of English. Charlie hates this plan, but when he overhears some delicate information from several of the characters, to be polite, he is forced to play the role of “The Foreigner” – a role he soon begins to enjoy. However, when conversations veer from the innocuous to the downright sinister, hilarity ensues as Charlie has to use all of his wits to save the place and the people that he has grown to love.
Sight gags, and especially verbal gags abound in this production, tightly directed by Edward Stern, who also directed the Rep’s production of The Foreigner 25 years ago. Surprisingly he has the same exact design team as before – John Ezell on sets, Dottie Marshall Englis on costume, and Peter Sargent on lights – who all perform their perspective duties with the professionalism that you expect from the Rep.
Brent Langdon is appropriately Brit as Froggy, and has his finest moments as he discovers how thoroughly Charlie has adapted to his role. Matthew Carlson as the Reverend seems a little youngish, but I guess that makes later discoveries about him a little more shocking. Winslow Corbet and Casey Predovic as the siblings Catherine and Ellard, are very good, and both have many wonderful and hilarious stage moments. Jay Smith as Owen Musser has a dead lock on good-old-boy goofiness, but sometimes good-old-boys can be dangerous, and I think we could use a teeny-tiny bit more menace from him, even in the funny scenes. Carol Schultz, is a delight as Betty, and the fun she has onstage is quite infectious. But, of course, the night belongs to the title character, the foreigner. John Scherer pulls off Charlie with the perfect blend of heart, and silliness. I would imagine that it takes discipline not to go too far, but just far enough, in a role like this – and Scherer does that with aplomb.
Now I have seen quite a few productions of The Foreigner, and most them were very funny – because, frankly, it’s quite hard to mess up with this superbly crafted script. But what struck me about the Rep’s production is a depth of characterization that you rarely see in farce, and I think it was a wise decision. Real people, in this real situation, acting in outlandishly unreal ways, makes this comedy quite enjoyable. There are too many very funny bits to list here – just be assured that if you want a good laugh, that there is more than enough opportunity with The Foreigner.