Annapolis Theater's 'The Foreigner' A Welcome Arrival

Play's Comic Approach To Tolerance Hits Home

January 07, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Charlie Baker is one of those unhappy British chaps whose own wife finds him shatteringly and profoundly boring, even on her deathbed.

On a quick getaway visit to the States to visit his old army buddy, Charlie becomes so panic-stricken at the thought of having to make conversation with the strangers on hand at Betty Meeks' Georgia resort that his friend passes him off as a non-English speaking foreigner incapable of understanding or communicating a word to anyone.

But, as they say, a funny thing happens in Larry Shue's play "TheForeigner" currently in production at the Annapolis Dinner Theater. Charlie's adopted persona so unlocks his creativity that this "foreigner" winds up enhancing the lives of the Southern oddballs who frequent the resort and foiling a Ku Klux Klan land grab in the process.

"The Foreigner" is a very funny, very different sort of play that iseminently worth doing well, which it most certainly is over at the Annapolis Dinner Theater.

Director Roland Chambers has assembled a talented, energetic cast that makes "The Foreigner" a pleasure to getto know close-up.

The role of Charlie is a license to steal, and it's hard to imagine a more adept larcenist than David Reynolds. So much of Charlie's humor is facial, and Reynold's physiognomy is as rubberized as they come.

When he gets around to conversation, the results are positively hilarious. The babbling, the Eastern European "Little Red Riding Hood," the fractured English and the "Dracularized" monster are all wonderfully funny, bespeaking a resourceful, well-intentioned comic actor.

I was also extremely impressed with Greg Peace, who lights up the stage as Ellard Simms, a Dixie dimwit who flowers, sort of, as Charlie's -- gasp -- English tutor. His entry into theboobery is brought out by a wealth of physical details -- perpetual sniffles; incessant blinks of the eyes -- that are uncommonly thoughtful and exceedingly funny.

Kristin Valerio is also excellent as Ellard's sister, Katherine, a Southern fussbudget whose edges soften asshe spills her guts to Charlie, who, of course, can't let on that heunderstands her. "There are some people who were just meant to be a waste of time," she agonizes in what I guess passes for introspectionin Southern Georgia. "I think I'm one of them."

Tim King is delightfully sleazy as Katherine's less than kosher clergyman fiance, and Peter Kaiser is just right as Owen Musser, the proverbially redneckedall-American Imperial Idiot of the Klan who finds Charlie and all "foreigners" injurious to his . . . er . . . vision of our country.

Clearly the play's comedic elements speak more robustly than Larry Shue's didacticism, but "The Foreigner" does indeed provoke some thoughon the subject of tolerance and in these days of David Duke, Louis Farrakhan and video games that enact the Holocaust, the discussion is welcome along with the laughs.

Carol Cohen and Cary Myles round out the strong cast.

"The Foreigner" may appear to be a stop-gap production, bridging the time between "A Christmas Carol" and "Gypsy," which opens at the end of the month.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This production is as accomplished as anything I've seen at the Annapolis Dinner Theater and deserves an audience.

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