LOGAN — Charlie Baker tries to adapt to a new environment and find the perfect method to avoid conversation with strangers. A humble bed and breakfast in a different country seems to be just the right place to have the greatest escapade of his life. These events provide the start to The Foreigner, a comedy by Larry Shue. Charlie struggles with something that most people seem to find themselves familiar with at some point: the struggle to talk to other people in a public setting. This struggle turns into an adventure to be remembered, and the play delivers side-splitting humor throughout.
Before the production began, I chatted with the gentleman sitting next to me, discussing theatre and the things we love about it. He said, “Theatre is the last form of entertainment where you will find genuine human emotion.” Musicians and artists reading this may disagree, but this comment stuck with me throughout the show. Lyric Repertory Company in Logan, Utah, performed genuine human emotion so well that I was convinced that this was the last place where one could find that emotion. The comedy and hilarity of the play was starkly contrasted by real displays of fear, love, and hate.
To understand the depth of character development and dedication put forth by the actors involved, one must understand a large detail of the premise. Charlie Baker (Chris Klinger) has been introduced to most of the characters as a non-English speaking foreigner, even though he is from England and a fluent English speaker. This significant plot point is a driving factor in what makes this play not only wonderful in its base, but extremely difficult to perform, and makes it more impressive when done well.
Klinger shows definitive characterization from his first appearance, posing an intriguing query: “How does one acquire a personality?” This is the basis of his character development throughout the show, a man without personality who desires to change. This is clear from early on, something accentuated by the flamboyantly large personality of his counterpart and best friend, Froggy LeSuer (Michael W.D. Francis). Michael W.D. Francis and Klinger had a relationship and chemistry that supported the needed dynamic beautifully. The written and chosen character for Froggy was convincing as a main character, as someone who is used to being the main character of every story. This was a jarring surprise when Froggy left the setting for most of the play, adding to the evidence that the personality had left with him. It was equally as jarring when he returns to find Charlie has developed something of a personality in his absence, revealing to the audience what had slowly been happening before our eyes in larger than life proportions.
The play introduces the characters of Catherine Simms (Katie Francis) and Reverend David Lee (Mitch Shira) as a couple completely in love, seemingly happy beyond all description. The portrayal of both characters was wonderful in that it showed all too well how secrets can drive wedges between even the strongest of relationships. Catherine shows a gentle and loving hand when the Reverend is around, but expresses doubt in the privacy of conversation with Charlie, who supposedly doesn’t understand a word she says. Katie Francis accomplishes well the change between scenarios, and brought just enough doubt into Catherine’s happier demeanor to make the change believable. Catherine’s interactions with Charlie and her brother Ellard (Cameron Blankenship) were a good contrast to enhance the idea that she was not sure about the relationship she had with her fiancé. Shira had a similarly interesting character to develop, as someone also keeping secrets but who slowly was losing control of the situation amidst the play. This was expertly portrayed by the smallest of changes: a tone in his voice, or a shift of body language was enough to show the darker side of his character surfacing.
Klinger’s performance as Charlie was delightful, particularly in scenes where his character was in the background, simply observing from the outside. One would assume that being in a role that isn’t supposed to speak English would mean that the character is missing from most of the show, but that is quite the contrary. Despite the supposed language barrier, Charlie finds himself the center of attention throughout most scenes. Klinger’s facial expressions and body language were at the forefront of his acting work in this play, and they were precise and decided at every point. At no point did he seem like an idle observer, but was always part of the scene and reacting as someone in this situation would. Some scenes of note were those where Charlie interacted with the Ellard Simms character. The budding friendship between these two was lovely to watch, and was arguably the most consistent source of laughter throughout the night.
Blankenship was stellar in his portrayal of the back-woods boy enraptured by the foreigner staying with him at the fishing lodge in Georgia. His interactions with each character were unique and well-developed. There was no doubt about what Ellard felt about each of the members of this cast, and each choice solidified the notion that he was not the simpleton everyone made him out to be. Blankenship had a distinct character voice that fit the character with genuine humor, without feeling too much like a cartoon. As the show progressed, so did the friendship and adventures that Ellard and Charlie shared. This situation created several one-sided scenes and conversations for Blankenship, which he handled spectacularly. The scenes never felt forced or dragged, but seemed as if Ellard didn’t seem to care that Charlie didn’t speak English, and was just happy to have someone to spend time with. Blankenship brought to life these elements of his character in a way that made Ellard stand out in the production with great comic timing and deepened character choices throughout.
This production of The Foreigner was delightful and well created. Each of the actors in the cast was dedicated and interesting to watch, making the overall quality of the show stellar. This family friendly play is a wonderful example of the talent and experience to offer in Utah, and makes for a night to remember. Find your way to Lyric Rep in Logan for a night where personality abounds, and emotions are genuine.