'Foreigner,' 'Arsenic' are laced with laughs

March 20, 1997|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Two comedies, "The Foreigner" and "Arsenic and Old Lace," are being staged at the Chesapeake Music Hall on alternate weekends through April 30, and both are worth seeing.

"The Foreigner" introduces Charlie Baker confronting the imminent death of his hospitalized wife by going to a remote lodge in Georgia. Lodge owner Betty Meeks is dealing with her own sense of loss; her property is about to be condemned.

This is a comedy plot? Yes, a funny, often hilarious comedy.

Charlie is a shy Englishman whose friend Sgt. Froggy LeSueur transports him to Betty's lodge. Since Charlie dreads conversation, Froggy tells Betty that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks no English. Betty is intrigued by the prospect of serving as host to this exotic foreigner.

Betty's lodge is home to a bizarre set of characters, including dim-witted Ellard, the brother of Catherine, a debutante. Catherine loves slick preacher Rev. David Marshall Lee, who schemes to take over Betty's lodge with the help of redneck Owen Musser.

Rubber-faced David B. Reynolds as Charlie is a master of mime and gibberish. He need only raise an eyebrow to convey meaning, and he reveals near balletic skill in his raconteur scene. He breaks his silence by spouting Slavic-sounding gibberish reminiscent of the great Sid Caesar.

Reynolds is also the consummate ensemble player, illustrated by the way he and Carol Cohen's Betty play off each other. Cohen and Reynolds have great chemistry, as do Reynolds and Jerry Vess, who plays Ellard. A perfect foil for Reynolds, Vess assumes a goofy southern accent with gusto, enabling Reynolds to display his talent for mimicry.

Other members of the cast include Robin Chapin as Froggy, who has a wonderful swagger along with concern for his friend's plight. Mary Armour-Kaiser's Catherine is properly reactive, and Frank Lama's Lee is slick enough. Peter Kaiser's Owen Musser is adept at cracking up the audience with his sliding jeans.

"Arsenic and Old Lace" is fine dinner theater fare. Two elderly, eccentric sisters ply old gentlemen with lethal elderberry wine. Their brother, Teddy, is so delusional he charges about a la Teddy Roosevelt, opening locks in the basement ("the Panama Canal"). Nephew Mortimer is stressed but sane and fond of Elaine, a minister's lustful daughter, who lives next door. Later in the play we meet deranged and fearsome nephew Jonathan with his accomplice Dr. Einstein.

As Martha Brewster, Carol Cox is a pleasant blend of daffy and capable. Kathryn Smith's shaky-voiced Abby is sweet and fussy. Steve Fogle's Teddy could muster a bit more vigor.

Mac Bogert dynamically portrays Mortimer. He rises from tense to frantic as he learns his aunts have gone beyond eccentric into criminal behavior.

On Saturday, Vess had a sure comic touch as Dr. Einstein. Reynolds delivered a near-perfect Boris Karloff portrait in the role of weird Jonathan, flying into hysterically funny rages whenever the Karloff resemblance is noted.

In both shows, everyone -- producers, directors, the entire cast -- does first-rate work. Reservations and information: 410-626-7515.

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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