LEHI — Although I am a regular theatergoer, The Foreigner has been on my bucket list for nearly 14 years now. I have been determined to see it ever since my sister wrote a report on it in junior high, hinting at the hilarity of the play without giving too much away. I finally got my chance this week during a performance sponsored by the Lehi Arts Council, and it didn’t disappoint. Written by Larry Shue, The Foreigner is set in the 1980’s in a fishing lodge resort in Georgia. The show revolves around Charlie Baker, an Englishman who has been brought to the lodge by his friend, Staff Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur, for a much-needed rest. Charlie is remarkably shy and quite uneasy about the trip, especially when he finds out there are other guests. To ease his fears, Froggy tells the lodge owner that Charlie is a foreigner and speaks no English, hoping the other guests will politely ignore him. Charlie is uncomfortable with the plan, but before he can confess he overhears some intimate conversations and uncovers a villainous plot. The shy Brit must then go overboard to carry out the ruse and hide his identity.
The opening scene was a bit slow and, despite my anticipation, it took me several minutes to warm up to the characters. I began to have doubts about this long-awaited performance, but once the plot was set, the laughs started rolling in and I found myself doubled over in my chair, gasping for breath. Most of the acting was on par for a community play, but a few actors took it up a notch. Lora Beth Brown gave an endearing performance as Betty Meeks, the elderly lodge owner, struggling to make ends meet. Her facial expressions clearly displayed her delight at entertaining a foreigner, and I couldn’t help but chuckle every time she spoke loud and clear right in Charlie’s ear, thinking somehow that would help him understand. B. J. Oldroyd gave a swell performance as Froggy. His accent was one of the best and most consistent among the crew, and he strutted around the stage with a swagger conducive to his overly confident character (not to mention blood alcohol level).
Jennifer Baldwin was not as convincing in her role as the wealthy former debutant, Catherine Simmes. The role did not lend itself to be very likeable, and she took it a little over the top, pouting on the couch and pacing by the window as she waited for her fiancé to come home. Paul Morley, who plays Catherine’s soon-to-be-beloved, Reverend David Marshall Lee, did a great job keeping his composure. It took a deep level of focus to stay in character with all of the ruckus around him, but, impressively, he kept a cool head and demeanor, unlike his friend Owen Musser (Jay Breckenridge) who constantly blew his top. Both these villains played their parts so well that the audience hissed when they came out to take their bows.
Steve Dunford played the part of Charlie and, just like his character, he took a little warming up to, but once I got to know him, I could see the humor seeping out of both the character and the actor. Dunford made the most of facial expressions in conveying his message, as he “didn’t speak English.” But his greatest strength was interacting well with the other actors and balancing the spotlight. Rob Crockett, who plays Catherine’s somewhat slow brother, Ellerd, was the dark horse of the performance. In the beginning his character didn’t bring much to the story, but as it developed, Crockett gave a surprisingly strong performance. His thick southern drawl and timid behavior drew you right in, especially during his “English lessons” with Charlie.
The play took community theater to an intimate level, as it was staged in the Lehi Arts Center, in a theater no more than four rows deep, with seats surrounding the stage. The audience is so close to the actors that they’re almost part of the action. There were no set changes; rather, everything took place in the main room of the lodge. But the actors made good use of the stage and made it a believable space. No detail was too small for director Michael Carrasco. From the time-period magazines on the coffee table to the “rain” outside the window, each prop was perfectly in place. Even the breakfast scene included a plate of real grits and scrambled eggs. And as he put it, “This story mixes humor with an important message.” That message (which I won’t reveal here) was artfully and tactfully conveyed.
As I watched the show I realized that there’s something unique about community theater, something that makes me feel at ease. The laid-back, friendly environment creates a much different atmosphere than a typical high-end show. Maybe it’s because I don’t expect as much, but I often walk away pleasantly surprised—as was the case with this show. At several points throughout the play I let loose a loud laugh, only to turn around and see the rest of the audience doing the same thing. In such a friendly environment, there is no need to conceal or stifle your chuckles, which makes it all the more fun. The Foreigner provided a much-needed evening of hilarity (the evidence of that was the bellyache I had in the car on the way home). If you’ve never seen The Foreigner, then hustle down to Lehi and join in the fun before it’s too late—or as Charlie would say, “Blasney, Blasney!”