Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the Following review of THE FOREIGNER by the Town Players of Newtown
Through June 25th
What a great way to spend Father’s Day and a kick-off to summer 2016 – The Town Players of Newtown’s The Foreigner, directed by Timothy Huebenthal, is a cheeky romp and a fabulous surprise! A play with which I was totally unfamiliar, this delightfully over-the-top comedy premiered in 1983, written by the late Larry Shue, whose untimely death in a commuter plane crash cut short his own Broadway debut in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and likely, what may have become a great body of theatrical work.
The Foreigner is anything but foreign – tackling very relevant issues of prejudice and discrimination, albeit in the most playful and creative of ways with plenty of slapstick and tomfoolery to boot. Take protagonist and cuckold Charlie Butler, sad sack extraordinaire, played masterfully by Bob Filipowich. His wife has cheated on him 23 times, yet he’s as loyal as a beaten hound. When at his wife’s request (she thinks her husband is “boring,” he tells us) he’s dragged along to a remote Georgia lodge by his friend Froggy LeSueur (played by Nick Kaye whom we’ve loved in numerous productions here in CT) he’s paralyzed at the thought of having to make small talk with strangers, because after all, his wife is ill and he should be there for her – “When a man’s wife is dying, he belongs with her, not – not in Georgia.” Froggy helps him out by concocting a cover story for the locals – Charlie is a foreigner from an exotic country who can’t speak a word of English. Now Charlie is off the hook, right?
Enter Betty Meeks (a fabulous Jennifer Weiss) as the shouting-at-the-top-of-her-lungs Tilghman County lodge owner and friend to Froggy, who thinks volume is the way to get Charlie to understand her. She is good-natured but a bit slow on the uptake at times; she’s quick to protect him though, and warns the other guests to give Charlie his space. Rev. David Marshall Lee and his betrothed, Catherine Simms, played by Rick Haylon and Bryn Berg, respectively, are the oil-and-water couple who have more than a few secrets exposed. One grows fond of Charlie, the other grows wary (you’ll just have to see it to find out whom and why). Lee is a hoot as the snake-charming slime ball. Berg, another dynamic actor we’ve come to love and have seen in several CT productions, oozes with Southern charm; she’s a shrew one minute and quite adorable the next. Owen Musser (a terrific Frank Arnon) is a terrific as the nasty, no-account redneck and friend of the reverend, whom you just love to hate – and as my mother loves to say, someone who doesn’t have the brains that God gave geese. Catherine’s brother Ellard may be the intellectually challenged butt of many jokes, but he’s more socially and emotionally aware than the rest of the crew – Tony Benedetti’s performance is spot-on.
If this play was not so tightly written, superbly acted, well-staged, and expertly directed, what madness ensues could have come off as a big bunch of nonsense; however, it was among the most engaging, all-out rolling-on-the-floor fun you can have at the theatre. Where else can you find religious rights, a suitcase of explosives, croquet mallets, half-eaten Winesap apples, members of the Ku Klux Klan, and mealtime pantomime that all together amounts to something dynamic? And to top it all off, plentiful gibberish pawned off as an interesting and glamourous foreign (yet unidentified) language (does Filipowich ever say that same thing twice?).
The cast works so well together, it is as if they’ve never done a performance in any other ensemble – their dialog is quick-fire, sharp, and witty. Filipowich is incredible as the lost soul who finds himself while bringing out the best in everyone, despite his communication “difficulties” – he’s their conduit to humanity and they all orbit around him like planets to the sun. Filipowich is equally as fantastic when delivering dialogue or spewing mumbo jumbo, as when he is silently taking it all in (his facial expressions and body language are priceless).
There is so much heart and passion that goes into community theatre and when it comes off in this kind of quality production, there really are no small roles. The intimate theatre space was the perfect venue for the cozy lodge, expertly designed by Huebenthal and constructed by Gene Golaszewski, Huebenthal, and Kaye (and decorated by Lynn Alexander and Terry Polvay). Kudos to Ryan Armstrong and Golaszewski for lights and sound and Michele Leigh for costumes. It takes a village, and shout-outs also to Golaszewski as producer, Alexander and Leigh as assistant producers; Polvay as stage manager, April Lichtman as assistant stage manager, Alexander and Leigh for properties, Pam Meister for publicity, Ruth Anne Baumgartner for the poster and program. And last but not least – Alexander, Huebenthal, and Leigh jumped in a few critical roles as “townspeople.
Thank you, Town Players of Newtown!
The Town Players of Newtown’s (TPN) production of Larry Shue’s The Foreigner is like the proverbial knock-out punch that comes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise. What a gem indeed! It is knock-down-drag-out side-splittingly funny.
Larry Shue was definitely a talented writer and actor whose candle burned out long before it should have. He was set to write the screenplay for a film version of the play when he was killed in a plane crash at the young age of thirty-nine. I would have loved to have seen it. The play works on two levels: as a comedy reminiscent of Arsenic and Old Lace; and on a second level, an examination of salient issues facing our society including bigotry, bullying, prejudice, and exclusion. The play opened in New York in the eighties with veteran director Jerry Zaks at the helm. It later was produced in a revival at the Roundabout Theatre Company starring Matthew Broderick and Frances Sternhagen.
The play is about two travelers, Charlie Baker and Sergeant Froggy LeSueur, who stop at a small resort in rural Georgia. Charlie is a shy introvert whose wife may be dying in the hospital. According to Charlie, she does not want him with her because he is boring and has no personality. He tells Froggy that he does not want to talk to anyone and just wants to be left alone. Froggy tells Betty, the proprietor, that Charlie is a foreigner and does not understand any English. Several inadvertent mishaps and misunderstandings lead Charlie to play the part of a foreigner from some unnamed place. Along the way he has to deal with bigotry, prejudice, and even physical violence threatened by none other than the Ku Klux Klan. Sorry, no spoilers here – let’s just say like Shakespeare’s play, “all’s well that ends well.”
TPN’s production was incredibly well-done. The casting was perfect. Indeed, the acting was as solid as the foundation where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. Every member of the cast turned in a strong performance. There wasn’t a weak link to be found. I can’t say how Matthew Broderick was in the role of Charlie Baker, but Bob Filipowich was simply wonderful. He was endearing, charming and hysterical. His comedic timing was as impeccable as Nick Kaye’s English accent as Froggy LeSueur. Nick (who we loved in Educating Rita at the Ridgefield Theater Barn) showed his flair for comedy. He got laughs from just his facial reactions and raising one eyebrow at times. Bryn Berg showed her formidable acting chops as Catherine Simms, the reverend’s fiancee and resident of the Inn. What a transformation in character from when we saw her last as the doctor in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at The Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport to the somewhat ditzy but ultimately captivating Catherine. We at Pillow Talking have become groupies of Bryn Berg and Nick Kaye for good reason.
The rest of the cast also is stellar. Frank Arnon as the bully and bigoted Owen Musser was so believable that I felt like giving him a piece of my mind after the show (turned out he was a nice guy). Jennifer Weiss was spot-on as the loud-speaking but gracious owner of the Inn. Rick Haylon made a great slimy, smarmy Reverend in the vein of the Reverend Jim Bakker (remember him?). And speaking of channeling, Tony Benedetti did a fantastic job at channeling Lennie from Of Mice and Men and Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade as Catherine’s dim-witted brother. His acting wasn’t dim at all, but was a brilliant 100 watts throughout the play.
Director Timothy Huebenthal did a great job with the staging and blocking, not to mention with the comedic aspects of the play. Having directed comedy in the past (and swearing never to do comedy again) I know how hard it is to direct that genre. So Mr. Huebenthal, my hat is off to you. He hit just the right balance between eliciting humorous moments amid drama.
TPN proves that you do not need a huge, elaborate stage and eye-popping multi-media effects to have an engaging piece of theatre (although in some instances it helps). All you really need is good material, good actors, and a good director. TPN’s The Foreigner easily exceeds all of those ingredients.