ST. GEORGE — Amid the strains of panic and COVID-19-induced quarantines, there is an effective antidote to combat the hysteria—a little something called laughter.
On the night before the government-encouraged shutdown of all unnecessary public gatherings, the cast and crew of St. George Musical Theater’s production of The Foreigner (by Larry Shue) threw their hearts and souls onto the small stage. An audience that seemed ready to think about something other than empty grocery store shelves and stockpiles of toilet paper met their efforts with warmth and enthusiasm.
Even in the most peaceful times, this cleverly written and delightfully portrayed production has everything from thought-provoking messages to full-belly laughs, all centered around one man’s paralyzing fear of speaking with strangers.
Charlie Baker (played by Aaron Naylor) has been brought by his friend, Sgt. Froggie LaSuere (played by Jeffery Robinson), to a small Georgia town for a few days of respite at a rustic bungalow while Froggie sees to some military business out of town. When Charlie realizes that Froggie intends to leave him there alone with a group of strangers, his social anxiety and penetrating fear of speaking with others sends him into a panic, forcing Froggie to come up with a plan to keep the other guests from talking to Charlie during his stay. Froggie tells Betty Meeks (Jane Williams), the owner of the lodge, that Charlie is in fact a foreigner and doesn’t speak any English. Delighted by the opportunity to host someone from a strange and distant land, Betty immediately takes a liking to Charlie and the household goes about its business—and private conversations—without any concern that this foreigner in their midst might actually be able to understand their words and ultimately piece together the nefarious plans bubbling beneath the surface in this rural Georgia town.
Situated in St. George Musical Theater’s signature in-the-round style, audiences get an even more personal look at this hilarious tale. This cozy, intimate setting means that even though the stage is small and simply adorned, it is more than enough to propel imaginations into the rustic cabin lodge. The proximity makes the entire story feel even more real—like when the characters shake rainwater from their jackets in the opening scene for example, and the droplets land in the audience. More poignant even, is the dramatic climax of the show, which feels uncomfortably real at such close proximity.
The cast is rife with standout characters, a true testament to the overall crop of talent in the Southern Utah amateur theater world.
Williams’s portrayal of the elderly widow lodge owner was 100 percent believable and truly delightful to behold. Everything from Williams’s posture and gestures to her vocal delivery made her easy to watch, and it seemed to be effortless on her side.
Similarly endearing, but in an entirely different way, Caleb Christensen’s version of the dim-witted Ellard Simms elicited sympathy for his character without crossing into pitiable. It’s a fine line, and Christensen walked it well—coming to life in his interactions with Charlie and earning him plenty of laughs of his own.
Aaron Naylor, playing the foreigner Charlie himself, showcased a breadth and depth of acting skills as he transitioned from awkwardly shy to someone who, in Charlie’s words, is finally acquiring a personality. Not everyone can pull off the kind of subtle facial expressions and also the full-body physical comedy, all while staying in character, but Aaron Naylor did it all. Adding to the latter challenge, some of the one-liner jokes change from night to night, keeping the experience fresh for the cast as well as for the audience.
Portraying a character that no one was dying to love, Tysen Chanticleer gave the audience someone on which to hang their frustrations in the character of Owen Musser, the racist county property inspector. Chanticleer had the backwoods, bumpkin style down, peppered with disdainful behaviors like Chanticleer was channeling some sort of vicious version of Roland Schitt (from the popular TV hit Schitt’s Creek).
Both Tysen Bang (who played the Rev. David Marshall Lee) and Angie Naylor (playing the wealthy heiress Catherine Simms) turned in solid performances, though Angie seemed to really hit her stride in the second act when her frustration with younger brother Ellard softened a bit, revealing a more caring woman than her angry, frustrated character showed in act one.
Some of the show’s highlights can’t be revealed without giving away major plot points, but Ellard’s pronunciations for the basic words he is “teaching” to Charlie, such as “la-ump” (lamp) will definitely make you la-uff.
The Foreigner is taking a two-week hiatus due to concerns about the novel corona virus spreading, but the plan is to resume the production and give people plenty of time to enjoy this thought-provoking, heart-warming and hilarious show.