The Heights Players
The Foreigner is rock solid hilarious -- I have not laughed this hard or as continuously during a play in quite some time. The Foreigner, as performed by Brooklyn Heights' venerable theater company, is farce at its most pure: unrelentingly absurd, energetic, ridiculous, and downright funny. All the compounded twists and turns, all of the comic potential of the play written by the late Larry Shue, are artfully and skillfully displayed to the max by a spirited and talented cast, carried along by Noel MacDuffie's ingenious direction.
The premise is simple. In the early '80s, British Charlie Baker (Steve Velardi) is taken to a fishing lodge in Georgia by an old army buddy, Froggy LeSueur (William Barry). Charlie's marriage back in England is falling apart, according to him, due to the fact that he possesses no personality. Charlie is alarmed when he finds out there are others staying at the lodge, since, shy and depressed as he is, he wishes to speak to no one. His buddy Froggy devises a plan: he will tell the other guests that Charlie speaks no English. Thus Charlie becomes "the foreigner," and in the process the silent confidant of the guests and their associates. They figure that since he does not understand English, they can tell him anything. And boy do they!
The entire cast plays each of their parts to the hilt. Betty (Elizabeth Bove), who owns the lodge, is a slap-on-the-back mature southern lady. Guesting at the lodge is Catherine (Kayla Ferguson) a somewhat moneyed belle who is engaged to David (Bernard Bosio), a reverend of questionable ordination, who harbors a hidden agenda. On hand is Catherine's brother Ellard (Cameron McIntosh), who is what they used to call in polite terms "slow." Owen Musser (Larry Gutman) is a very disagreeable, xenophobic townsman-cum-building inspector, who has engineered the condemnation of poor Betty's lodge and possess a widely obvious (and obnoxious) agenda. Along with Charlie, this mélange of folk work very hard at making each situation that shows up ever more complex and sidesplitting.
Catherine, Betty, and Ellard warm up to Charlie. Catherine begins to find Charlie cute. Betty is enthralled with his indeterminate foreignness. Ellard takes it upon himself to serve as Charlie's English teacher. At one point Foggy finds himself declaring that Charlie is, in his native country, quite a storyteller. The crew begs Charlie to tell a story. Charlie reluctantly commences to tell a dramatic story in gibberish, with wild emotive gestures. (I was reminded of Allen Arkin's pantomime in the film Simon). Each listener comes up with an appreciative interpretation; an interpretation of their own fantasy of Charlie's non-story.
A silent breakfast scene between Charlie and Ellard is something of a tour de force of comic acting, an outrageously fractured take on the famous eating scene in the 1963 film Tom Jones. Throughout the play, Cameron McIntosh's portrayal of Ellard was thoroughly convincing, even hypnotic. In this difficult role of a gangly (but well-meaning) numbskull, Mr. McIntosh creates before our eyes a humanized, exalted knucklehead. No mean feat!
Last year, I saw Elisabeth Bove in her superb portrayal of Mrs. Venable, in Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer. What a transformation from Williams' old wheelchair-bound bitty to Shure's rollicking innkeeper, Betty! Ms. Bove shows herself to be the kind of seasoned trouper who can do just about anything, and do it well.
Noel MacDuffie has directed a really fine comedy. It is well worth the brief subway trip out to Brooklyn Heights to catch The Foreigner, which plays the weekends of February 10 and 17. - Jay Reisberg
The Heights Players' theater is at 26 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights.
Photo credit: LocalTheatreNY.com
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, assistant to the founder of New York's Love Street Theatre, and bon vivant at large.