Everyman's gentle, fun 'Foreigner' most welcome

June 05, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

If you've ever found yourself listening to the confidences of a total stranger on a long plane or train ride, you'll understand the way the folks in Larry Shue's "The Foreigner" bare their souls to the stranger in their midst.

Except in this case, the temptation to tell all is even greater since the stranger doesn't speak -- or understand -- English.

At least, that's what the other guests at Betty Meeks' Georgia fishing lodge are led to believe.

The truth is that Charlie Baker is painfully shy, with a deep-seated fear of talking. In Everyman Theatre's amusing production, Bill Largess registers Charlie's distress with comic finesse. Demonstrating Charlie's exasperation at the seemingly simple task of finishing a sentence, Largess stammers and flails his arms in dismay before launching into a full-fledged, hyperventilating anxiety attack.

To save Charlie from further humiliation, his friend Froggy concocts the tall tale that Charlie is a non-English-speaking foreigner. And, oh, the things Charlie learns!

With the exception of innkeeper Betty Meeks -- hilariously played by Vivienne Shub, who has made a mini-specialty of this role and who compensates for Charlie's lack of comprehension by bellowing at him -- nobody at this remote resort is exactly what they seem.

Catherine, a sweet former debutante, is pregnant. Her fiance, the Rev. David Marshall Lee, clearly isn't sterile, as she believed. Nor does he turn out to be devoted to "good works," as Catherine also believes. And, Catherine's addled younger brother, Ellard, isn't quite as addled as Rev. David would like everyone to think.

Most of all, however, Charlie turns out to be far from the "shatteringly, profoundly boring" individual he considers himself. And, Largess makes Charlie's transformation an endearing one.

The reverend's evil scheme, and Charlie's role in foiling it, make up most of the plot of this gentle farce. Director Grover Gardner keeps the action moving at an ambling, amiable pace that suits the piece until the end, when more tension is needed to convey the danger that descends on Betty's lodge.

Jacqueline Underwood and Scott Rinker are especially good as kind-hearted Catherine and her equally good-natured, simple-minded brother. Ellard's efforts to teach Charlie to speak English -- complete with two-syllable pronunciations of "fork" and "lamp" -- are some of the funniest moments of the evening.

Dana Whipkey is the epitome of outgoing joviality as Froggy, the friend who gets Charlie into this mess. And J.M. McDonough is appropriately nasty and dumb as Owen Musser, the play's obvious villain. A little less obviousness, however, would enhance Timmy Ray James' portrayal of Rev. David, particularly in his final revelatory scene.

Holly Beck's beautifully detailed, realistic set is so homey, you're tempted to rest a spell on Betty Meeks' sofa between acts. That homeyness seems fitting for this young, professional theater, which is becoming anything but a foreigner on the Baltimore theater scene.

'The Foreigner'

Where: Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2: 30 p.m. Sundays, through June 23

Tickets: $15

Call: (410) 752-2208

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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