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STAGE REVIEW 'Foreigner' a play of deception



Published: Mon, January 31, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The casts' timing makes the show a delight to watch.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Playwright Larry Shue penned only two plays before his death in a plane crash in 1985. Both "The Foreigner" and "The Nerd" have been hugely successful. "The Foreigner," however, is the play that most people identify with Shue. And Friday night at the Oakland Center for the Arts, Shue's popular comedy took center stage once again.

Set at a fishing lodge in Tilghman County, Ga., "The Foreigner" tells the riotous tale of Charlie Baker, a simple, quiet man, who needs some R & amp;R after learning of his wife's numerous affairs. He quite frankly wants to be left alone and doesn't want to talk to anyone.

His friend, "Froggy" LeSueur, concocts the story that Baker is a foreigner and cannot understand English, thus assuming he will be left in peace.

The cast

Well, as the opening night audience discovered, quite the opposite happens. It is good to see Michael Morley back on an area stage. Morley plays the nervous Baker with zeal. His initial meek entrance quickly disappears as he plays this game of deception with delight.

Although he has few lines in the first act, his facial expressions say more than a page of dialogue ever could. His character builds steadily and craftily to the climactic final scene. Two particularly strong moments for Morley are the "word lesson" scene with Ellard Simms and the "storytelling" scene.

Playing off of Morley in the "word lesson" is Ed Smith as Ellard, who is shy a few rungs on his ladder, takes an immediate liking to Charlie and begins teaching him English.

The results are hilarious. Smith's timing is impeccable as he immerses himself in what is probably the only meaningful activity in which Ellard has ever been involved. The audience took an immediate liking to this hapless character who finally found some meaning in his life.

Jumping in to help Ellard out is Betty Meeks, played by Jane Hill. Betty runs the fishing lodge and finds Charlie to be irresistible. Hill puts in a fine performance as Betty but it is difficult to connect the "old lady" references in the script to her when she obviously appears much younger.

Nonetheless, Hill is likable and very enthusiastic as she gets caught up in the deceptive events. Tom O'Donnell makes brief appearances as "Froggy," Charlie's friend, and delivers well. His accent at the beginning seemed a bit forced, however, and made it somewhat difficult to catch many of his lines in the first scene.

Edward Walsh, as the Rev. David Marshall Lee, and Loraine Pavalko Stanfar, as Catherine Simms, both turn in strong performances as a couple fraught with numerous problems on their way to the alter. As the story progresses, the more we find out about Charlie, the more we find out about Lee and Catherine. Both Walsh and Stanfar develop their situation well leading up to the final scene.

James E. Deeley, as the villainous Owen Musser, has many bright spots but never quite gets over the top to make the character really explode and become the menace that he should. It is a meaty role with endless opportunities to make Musser a domineering and frightening force as he repeatedly tries to intimidate Charlie with threats of the local chapter of the Klan.

A charming show

Director Joanne Carney Smith has handled this tricky show well. She has built each character gradually and has allowed her actors the freedom for their individual moments which is part of the charm of this show. The cast works well together in establishing a very tight performance in which the timing of lines is critical.




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