San Diego Theater Review: THE FOREIGNER (Lamb’s)

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by Milo Shapiro on February 1, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

THE FOREIGNER HAS GOOD REASON TO STAY PUT

Nancy Snow Carr, Geno Carr, Myra McWethy, Kevin Hafso-Koppman in Lamb's Players production of THE FOREIGNER.Some theatre is staged to raise our awareness.  Some theatre is designed to tell a story that will move us emotionally.  Some theatre is intended to share a different viewpoint.  All of this is good.  On the other end of the scale, some theatre exists for nothing more than to make us smile and laugh without anything deeper to offer.   Lamb’s Players’ silly, playful production of Larry Shue’s fluffy The Foreigner (1984) is a solid, unapologetic fit into this last category.   And this is also good.

Cris O'Bryon & Myra McWethy in Lamb's Players production of THE FOREIGNER.The premise is absurd, but delightfully so.  Charlie Baker (Geno Carr) has social anxiety and dreads having to make conversation with strangers.  His friend Froggy (Cris O’Bryon), not realizing the severity of his problem, puts him up in a guest house in rural Georgia.  To help Charlie cope, Froggie cleverly tells the proprietor of the lodging a lie.  He says that Charlie is a foreigner who is embarrassed to speak no English so it would be better to refrain from talking to him at all.  Of course, the novelty of a foreigner in this rural town proves too much for the owner and her guests; Charlie is anything but ignored.  And as they say in Hollywood, “Hilarity ensues.”

Geno Carr & Kevin Hafso-Koppman in Lamb's Players production of THE FOREIGNER.Kerry Meads wisely directs her actors broadly, for this script would fall flat if performed with subtlety or any attempt at profundity.   The characters are stereotypes and, overall, the cast rises to the occasion, including the one that we learn, early on, is hiding a secret.

Geno Carr & Myra McWethy in Lamb's Players production of THE FOREIGNER.At first, Carr takes Charlie to a level of annoying that would have been intolerable for two hours.  However, since the premise requires that Charlie will be unable to speak for most of the play (at least in English), Carr’s character choices work; in fact, it is only in clobbering us with what a mess Charlie is that we delight in Carr’s rich, awkward mugging as the plot thickens around him. Carr owns the night, and the audience applause stopped the show after one particular moment.  Myra McWethy is a standout as the bumpkin innkeeper who is convinced she is simpático with Charlie because he seems to understand her.  Stacey Allen nails the energy of Owen, the creepy, detestable bigoted redneck; Allen’s interpretation cannot be defined as over-the-top because, frighteningly, there are a lot of real Owens out there.

Nancy Snow Carr & Brent Schindele in Lamb's Players production of THE FOREIGNER.The elements of the story do hit you over the head, so there’s not a lot of surprise with the plot development; it’s no shock that twists of circumstance force Charlie to grow in order to cope and even help these sweet people.  The fun, instead, is just watching it play out.  The one character tweak that is needed is in Froggy:  As the only person who knows Charlie’s true identity, O’Bryon could stand to appear more bewildered by Charlie’s dramatic metamorphosis when he occasionally drops in throughout the weekend.  O’Bryon is surprised, but his failing to be completely stupefied not only seems off the mark for the character but loses the opportunity for some hearty laughs in his reaction.

The Foreigner seems to make the rounds of production in San Diego, showing up in a new repertory house every few years.  This is the third different production for this reviewer, and for a play where character boldness is critical, Lamb’s’ actors close the deal better than any other seen to date.

Stacey Allen in Lamb's Players production of THE FOREIGNER.

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photos by Ken Jacques

The Foreigner
Lamb’s Players Theatre
1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado
scheduled to end on March 2, 2014
EXTENDED through May 18, 2014
for tickets, call 619.437.6000
or visit www.LambsPlayers.org

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