The widely produced and enduring hit "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue has never been a favorite play of mine, but MCC’s current production is, to quote lead character Charlie, “remarkable.”
Originally written for the Milwaukee Rep, "The Foreigner" premiered in 1983 and went on to a successful Off Broadway run of 685 performances before playwright’s Shue’s untimely death at the age of 39 in a small plane crash. (Sadly, he was en route to Broadway for his very first acting lead in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”). Billed as a comedy, and often a farce, "The Foreigner" examines human nature, the art of listening, and how we perceive others.
The plot begins with the arrival of British demolition expert Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur and his friend Charlie Baker at Meeks’ Fishing lodge in the middle of a thunderstorm. The plan is for Charlie to stay three days while Froggy conducts a training session at a nearby base. Charlie, the “shatteringly and profoundly shy” proofreader is immersed in depression and fearful of making conversation with strangers.
So Froggy invents a “protection” scheme telling all that Charlie should be left alone and he cannot speak or understand English; he is from an exotic country (hence “the foreigner”). But, of course, things go awry and Charlie overhears more than he should.
Director Kathryn McCord wisely keeps the setting in the 1980s - check out the Princess Di cover of People Magazine on the sofa. She has also assembled an energetic cast of seven to prance, march, and slapstick their way across the very down home, earthy, multi-tiered rural Georgia fishing lodge designed by Jay Geller and Mary Brodie. And furthering the visual attractiveness of this production are the character suited costumes by Kathy Bruhnke and lighting by Rick Amundsen.
Outstanding as Charlie Baker is Liam Bell. His portrayal is witty, funny, and boy does he tirelessly deliver as he goes from nerdy frightened to heroic. Bell, is in a word, superb. Jake Sealy as Froggy is a very likable, commanding, engagingly solid actor (and he does a great accent too). Matthew Stewart’s Reverend David Marshall Lee has maybe the best, if not most political relevant line “we could have made this country great again”; Stewart smoothly flips his good/evil personality on and off.
Fallon Knaack does an impressive job with her facials and vocals as Catherine, the heiress, although we don’t quite see much change in her character as Shue perhaps would like us to believe happens. Knaack does have a very lovely moment when she recognizes the capability of others; It’s quick but her face says it all.
Very strong character portrayals are consistently delivered by Yvonne Alton, Jackson Nielsen, and Jason Neal. Alton is adorable, zany, motherly, and accent perfect as Betty Meeks, the lodge’s proprietor and dispenser of Southern hospitality. Nielsen is Ellard, Catherine’s brother, and has a sweet, open face; he is a subtle communicator whenever he is onstage. Neal’s xenophobic Southerner Owen is believably and credibly loathsome, not to mention frightening.
Is "The Foreigner" light entertainment? Well, yes and no. There is a redemptive and heartwarming climax.
Many laughs come from the clever word play and the physical comedy; Charlie’s enactment of a story, his ridiculous pig Latin language, and the breakfast pantomime with Ellard come readily to mind. But there is also renewed relevance to our current political climate with the racism and fear of foreigners expressed- by two characters in particular. And all the time we’re laughing, we’re also perhaps being reminded that the times haven’t really changed that much. We do need a little more Charlie, Betty, and Froggy in our lives.
• Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director and veteran of more than 50 plays, films, and web series. She is a retired District 47 Special Educator, a retired Raue Center for the Arts Board member, and currently serves on the boards of RCLPC and It’s Showtime/Huntley.
Through Nov. 3
All performances at 7 p.m.
Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
$10 Students, MCC employees, Seniors and veterans
$15 General Public
MCHENRY COUNTY COLLEGE
BLACK BOX THEATER
ROUTE 14, CRYSTAL LAKE