Saturday, December 8, 2012

THE FOREIGNER • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Larry Shue's 1984 play is a charming, funny, feel-good affair, perfect for the holiday season, and it's currently getting a splendid production at the Rep, under Edward Stern's spot-on direction.

Everything takes place at Betty Meeks's fishing lodge in small town Georgia.  Englishman Charlie Baker (John Scherer) needs a little time away from the grind of his life.  His wife is ill and hospitalized back home, and in addition to nursing her, he's tired of his job as a proofreader for science-fiction magazines, so his buddy "Froggy" (Brent Langdon) has taken him to the lodge for a little rest and relaxation.  Froggy, an ammunitions expert in the military, has become good friends with Betty, the owner of the lodge, and this getaway has become one of Froggy's favorite places.  The thing is though, Charlie is painfully shy and rather uninteresting.  His wife once described him as being "shatteringly boring".  Ouch!!  She's not the most faithful wife in the world, but Charlie still loves her.  He's also terrified of conversation, so in order to try to spare his friend of the possible horrors that interaction might bring, Froggy tells Betty that Charlie is from another country and doesn't understand English.  He figures that way, everyone will leave him alone.

John Scherer (Charlie Baker).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Even though Charlie becomes even more stressed out when he finds out about Froggy's ploy, once he's placed in the uncomfortable position of being discovered after overhearing a conversation not meant for his ears, he decides it would be easier to play along.  Betty also wants in on a little adventure, and she considers this "foreign" visitor's stay exciting.  Betty's got enough on her mind, anyway.  Her lodge is in danger of being condemned by Owen Musser (Jay Smith), the local property inspector.  In addition to Betty, also staying at the lodge are Rev. David Marshall Lee (Matthew Carlson) and his wealthy fiancée Catherine (Winslow Corbett), and her rather dimwitted brother Ellard (Casey Predovic).

Carol Schultz (Betty Meeks) and John Scherer (Charlie Baker).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Charlie's self-imposed silence makes him, much to his fascination, privy to more than anyone suspects, while he also unintentionally becomes the center of attention.  Catherine confides in him, Betty delights in his "foreignness", and Ellard "teaches him English".  Charlie also discovers the agenda of the bad guys, Owen and the Reverend, and must figure out a way to thwart their plans without giving himself away.  Things get a bit more serious when Charlie becomes a target of the Ku Klux Klan.  You know, they don't take to foreigners too well.  Charlie makes quite a transformation during the course of the play, and watching him develop a fondness for some and get the upper-hand on others, is very rewarding.

John Scherer (Charlie Baker) and Casey Predovic (Ellard Simms).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Scherer does an excellent job as Charlie Baker, starting off meek and mild, and then blossoming as the play unfolds.  Watching Predovic grow into his own as the dense but endearing Ellard Simms is also a treat.  Ellard and Charlie have quite a few very funny scenes together, including one as they mimic each other at the breakfast table -- their first hilarious foray into communicating with each other.  Langdon as Charlie's good friend Froggy does a fine job as well as Schultz as the enthusiastic Betty Meeks.  The villains, Carlson's Reverend David and Smith's pro-Klan Owen Musser, inhabit their nasty roles well enough to incur "boos" at the curtain.  John Ezell's  two-story set is homey and beautifully detailed, and is complemented by Peter E. Sargent's lights, Rusty Wandall's sound, and Dorothy Marshall Englis's costumes.

It's a fun romp, with a heartwarming message of friendship and acceptance.  It's playing on the mainstage until the 23rd.

Carol Schultz (Betty Meeks), Casey Predovic (Ellard Simms),
John Scherer (Charlie Baker) and Winslow Corbett (Catherine Simms).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Written by Larry Shue 
Directed by Edward Stern
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through December 23 | tickets: $19.50 - $79.00
Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Brent Langdon ("Froggy" LeSueur), John Scherer (Charlie Baker), Carol Schultz (Betty Meeks), Matthew Carlson (Rev. David Marshall Lee), Winslow Corbett (Catherine Simms), Jay Smith (Owen Musser) and Casey Predovic (Ellard Simms).

Scenic design by John Ezell; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by Peter E. Sargent; sound design by Rusty Wandall; stage manager, Glenn Dunn.

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