'The Foreigner,' opening at college, is a refreshingly wholesome comedy HOWARD COUNTY DIVERSIONS

November 13, 1992|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

For those who are weary of a steady diet of R-rated movies, Madonna and MTV, Howard Community College's Smith Theatre may offer sanctuary for a few hours with its debut of "The Foreigner," a professional theatrical production.

Save two or three obscenities, "The Foreigner" is a contemporary drama -- written less than a decade ago -- without contemporary elements such as sexual innuendo, coarse language and themes from the mean streets. If it weren't for a line about Diana, Princess of Wales, the play would be difficult to anchor in any particular time.

Written by the late Larry Shue, who was raised in Baltimore for a portion of his childhood and later performed at the Harlequin Dinner Theater in Rockville, "The Foreigner" is a farce about a shy Englishman, Charlie, who wishes to remain undisturbed during a three-day vacation at a Georgia fishing lodge. His friend, Froggy, explains to the locals that he is a foreigner who does not understand any English, except "Thank you."

That artifice, devised to make his friend's stay uneventful, has quite the contrary effect. Aided by his perceived liabilities, Charlie unwittingly becomes involved in everyone's problems.

The play, which was first performed in 1983, netted Mr. Shue an Outer Critics Circle Award in the category of "Best New American Play."

Two years later Mr. Shue died in an airplane crash as he was traveling from Baltimore to Shenandoah Valley Airport in Virginia. He was 38.

The performance is directed by Bill Graham Jr. of Columbia, who teaches at Howard Community College. He is producing director of the Olney Theater, where this comedy was the most successful production in the history of the theater.

Mr. Graham finds it hard to pigeonhole Mr. Shue's work, which includes "The Nerd," among other American playwrights. "Larry Shue was creating his own form. A unique form that found a place in American theater. Then he had to go and die," he said.

"Besides the fact that ['The Foreigner' is] one of the funnier plays in the last 20 to 30 years, the characters are appealing," Mr. Graham said.

"In farce everyone knows what they want and someone is in the way."

Playing the central role of Charlie is John Morogiello of Laurel, who admits some ambition for the role that Mr. Shue wrote with much of himself -- especially shyness -- in it.

"When I first read the play, I started planning my audition six months in advance. Each character is well-defined. They're are all very real, even though it's a farce," he said.

Despite the fact that Charlie is supposed to speak little English, the role is a challenge for the tall and slender bespectacled 27-year-old, who is deaf in one ear and uses a hearing aid to correct 20 percent deafness in the other. Mr. Morogiello's crisp and broadcast-quality voice belie any hearing problem.

"Generally, I try to familiarize myself with everyone's else's lines, so I know where I am in a play," Mr. Morogiello said. A lot of what Charlie says is a made-up language created by the character to maintain the lie that he doesn't know much English. "Rather than memorize things that are easy, I had to remember gobbledygook," he said.

A playwright and actor, he recently had his play, "Gianni Schicchi," an adaptation of the opera by Puccini, read at the Belmont Italian-American Playhouse in New York City. Valerie Constantini, producing director for "The Foreigner," said Mr. Morogiello's play is under consideration for next season's Outback Series.

Mr. Morogiello also contributed to this month's issue of American Theatre, with an article titled, "The Media, Politicians and Good Theater," which criticizes the misuse of theatrical terms such as "morality play" and "good theater" in the political arena

Other cast members for "The Foreigner" include Bruce Leipold of Ellicott City as Froggy, Mary Alice Feather of Ellicott City as Betty, David Lee of Columbia as Owen, April Haar of Columbia as Catherine, Brian McMonagle of New York City as Ellard and David Martin of Washington as the Rev. Lee.

"What's appealing [about 'The Foreigner'] is how funny it is. It's good, clean fun," Mr. Morogiello said. "There's nothing to offend, and yet, it's hilarious."

"The Foreigner" will take place at 8 p.m. today, tomorrow and Nov. 20 and 21 with a Sunday show at 2 p.m. in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. Admission is $12 for orchestra seating and $10 for mezzanine seating, $8 for students, seniors and groups of six or more. This Sunday's performance will have special $5 discount seats. The theater is wheelchair accessible and also features an FM hearing system. Sign language interpretation for the Sunday performance may be arranged by calling the TTD line, 992-4883. For tickets call the college box office, 964-4900.

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