OREM — The Foreigner at the Hale Center Theatre Orem, like many shows in this venue, is a delightful production. I had a few expectations for the piece given my familiarity with it, and I was pleased when these expectations were met and even exceeded at points.
The Foreigner follows the comedic antics of Charlie Baker as he pretends to be a “foreigner” who speaks no English and is surrounded by loving, kooky small-town Georgians. Charlie saves the day when he helps Betty Meeks and her lodge tenants Catherine and Ellard Simms scare off the Klu Klux Klan, save the lodge from ruin and save Catherine from a dangerous and unhappy engagement. The show is a hilarious farce filled with humor for all kinds.
The production at the Hale was very good overall, though not perfect. When the show first opened the cast felt a little off. Perhaps the actors were cold, or it was just getting back into the swing of things after being dark, but things weren’t quite clicking for actors or audience. This, however, entirely changed in the first act in the moment where Charlie (David Smith) and Ellard (Cameron Asay) have breakfast together and Charlie decides to have play with Ellard and imitate everything Ellard does as if Charlie has never had breakfast before. Ellard, who throughout the beginning of the play is constantly berated about his mental deficiencies, buys into the game and the audience started rolling in the aisles over these two running around the house, jumping on sofas, yelling at the stove and putting juice glasses on their heads. From this point on, I was sold, as was the rest of the audience.
The cast all around gave a terrific performance, however the three standout performers were without a doubt, Cameron Asay as Ellard, Karen Baird as Betty Meeks, and David Smith as Charlie Baker. It’s not to say that the other 4 cast members weren’t excellent, but Asay, Baird and Smith definitely shined in this production. Asay was both hysterical and tragic at the same time as he portrayed a believable mentally-handicapped boy learning that he is smarter than everyone else told him he was. Small physical quirks and character traits made for a nice performance that was in no way patronizing or stereotypical of mental disorder, which was refreshing for me. Karen Baird was instantly lovable the moment she came on stage. Her simplicity and honesty as Betty was delightful to watch and created such a wonderful contrast with the scheming villains Reverend David Lee and Owen Musser (Mitch Hall and Larson Holyoak, respectively). You rooted for her the whole time and I found myself just wanting to give Betty a big hug.
David Smith was absolutely terrific in the lead role as Charlie. His physical antics and facial expressions were absolutely priceless and his ability to honestly perform a character that is himself performing was definitely applause worthy. Perhaps the greatest moment of the night was in act two where Froggy (Justin Bruse) returns to the lodge to find Charlie completely buying into the act of being a foreigner. Froggy insists that Charlie is quite the storyteller and the new friends insist that he tell a story in his native tongue. Smith then proceeded to weave a terrific tale (about what no one was completely sure) that continued for a solid 3 or 4 minutes entirely with pantomime and speaking gibberish. The result was an amazing feat of acting for both Smith and the character of Charlie. Several times Smith caused the show to stop with applause for his work.
From a technical aspect the show was perfectly fine. The Hale used its iconic space to its fullest capacity and dressed a beautiful set to truly look and feel like a rustic country lodge. The area where I felt the show was not as strong as its other components was in terms of its direction. Laurie Harrop Purser did a fine job in coaching the acting and crafting the story of the show, but the blocking of the show, I felt, was somewhat lacking. It is a difficult task to try and direct a show for “thrust arena” stage (audience on 3 sides) like the Hale and I felt like a lot of the blocking didn’t really take the space into account. Most of the blocking in group scenes had everyone standing facing in towards the center of the stage, resulting in the audience being able to see very little of the actors’ fronts and often important moments in the show were hidden behind other actors. I tried to imagine myself in other seats around the theatre to see if it was just a consequence of where I was sitting, but as I did the result seemed to be about the same. Much of the physical antics and facial expressions were stage facing the north end of the theatre, which is the side where no audience is sitting. Again I do not feel that Purser did a poor job, because she didn’t; I simply feel the staging of the show could have taken the space into account a little more so as to give ample opportunity for all sides of the audience to experience the show the way she intended it.
All in all, The Foreigner is a delightful evening of theatre. The show is brilliantly funny and the cast gives a terrific performance. The play carries a good, wholesome message while not being afraid to be funny about it. I would definitely recommend The Foreigner at the Hale to anyone who enjoys good theatre.