SPANISH FORK — In live theatre, expectations matter. If a theatre company builds up expectations too high, then a satisfactory production can feel disappointing. Several years ago, a theatre company used the tagline “Broadway Magic! Utah Style” in its advertisements. That company’s shows had difficulty living up to the expectations of “Broadway magic,” and disappointment was not unusual for reviewers and audiences. Spanish Fork Community Theater, though, has the opposite problem. The company’s current production of The Foreigner is far better than what audiences would expect with the “community theater” moniker and the $5-8 ticket price. In reality, this production of The Foreigner is worth triple its ticket price and would be a fine production in many non-Equity companies’ seasons.
Set in the 1980s, The Foreigner tells the story of Charlie Baker, an emotionally distraught man who flees to a Georgia fishing lodge to escape his problems. To make the trip endurable with his social anxiety, his friend tells the other denizens of the lodge that Charlie does not speak English. Rather than allowing Charlie to spend his vacation in peace, this lie results in the locals befriending Charlie and even baring their souls to him. In the meantime, Charlie also gets sucked into a plot by local members of the Ku Klux Klan to take over the lodge to use as its local headquarters.
Andy Hunsaker plays Charlie Baker with a wide emotional range. Charlie’s nervousness about meeting new people in the opening scene is palpable and elicits compassion. Andy Hunsaker also is effective at building a sweet friendship between Charlie and Ellard, a young man with some cognitive limitations who lives in the lodge. The joy that Charlie felt from making Ellard feel smart and useful was easily discernable and gave the show much of its heart. Where Andy Hunsaker excels, though, is in his comedic acting. Whether delivering gibberish lines in Charlie’s foreign “language” or portraying obliviousness, Andy Hunsaker has masterful comedic instincts. A moment where Charlie overhears an intimate private conversation between Catherine (Ellard’s brother) and her fiancé is especially hilarious and worth the price of admission.
The only word that adequately describes this supporting cast is “endearing.” Arlene McGregor plays Betty Meeks, the owner of the lodge. McGregor is the epitome of a “sweet old lady in her twilight years” (as Larry Shue‘s script calls Betty). Betty’s delight in meeting a real foreigner, or her worry about losing her lodge made her a sympathetic character that I wanted to spend an evening with. Corbin Jensen makes Ellard more than just a lovable simpleton, and watching Ellard’s excitement as he realized he knew something that another person did not (how to speak English) was a satisfying moment.
Erika Poulsen plays Catherine with ease and aplomb. When the play begins, Erika Poulsen gives the character a veneer of emotional pain, as Catherine grapples with an unwanted pregnancy and a distracted and distant fiancé. In time, Catherine learns to accept Charlie’s antics and grows to appreciate his presence. Erika Poulsen is a talented actress who can subtly show her character’s growth, even in a broad absurd comedy. In the role of David Lee (Catherine’s fiancé), Josh Hopkin is perfectly cast. David is a hypocritical preacher (having fathered Catherine’s child out of wedlock), and Hopkin is adept at playing a two-faced sleazeball without making David unrealistic or cartoony.
Director Kara Poulsen supervised these talented actors. Her direction is skillful, and most of the play seems so real and natural that suspending disbelief is easy. Kara Poulsen moves the action along quickly, and the play’s 2-hour running time (not including the 10-minute intermission) flies by. My only wish is that the climax had been staged more threateningly. If Charlie, Betty, Ellard, and Catherine were surrounded by robed klansmen (instead of having all of the klansmen stuck in a downstage corner), the full menace of the KKK would have been apparent. Additionally, the klan member who weirdly echoed Owen Musser’s lines was also a distracting in the scene.
The set for The Foreigner was exquisitely detailed, and it is a shame that no designer is credited (though Jan Hunsaker is listed as a technical director). The brickwork and wood paneling were an excellent choice to create the setting, and the set decoration and props (the latter by Brian Gunyan) were appropriate for the time period and seemed like the type of objects that Betty would surround herself with. Costumes (also uncredited) were also excellent. I most appreciated the costumes for David, which clearly showed the character to be a hillbilly, but with a few higher-class touches (such as mixing jeans with a white dress shirt) that were appropriate for his position as a preacher. Hopkin’s long hair that was neatly tied back and neatly trimmed beard also nicely struck this balance between white trash and respectability. Other male actors’ hair, though, was too modern and did not fit the 1980s at all.
The drawbacks of this production, though, are so minor or fleeting that they cannot detract from the sheer pleasure that Spanish Fork Community Theater brings to The Foreigner. The talented cast, careful direction, and strong technical elements make The Foreigner an enjoyable show that amply exceed expectations.