`Foreigner' mix of emotions makes for enjoyable comedy

Play's last-minute move to new stage doesn't faze Columbia theater troupe

Theater preview

Howard Live

May 25, 2000|By Nelson Pressley | Nelson Pressley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Columbia Community Players president Bob Russell describes Larry Shue's "The Foreigner" as "a prop-intensive, tech-intensive show."

It could not have come as good news, then, when Russell (who is directing the show) was told that he couldn't move the set for "The Foreigner" onto the stage at the Wilde Lake Village Green's Slayton House until last Sunday night.

He had expected to move the set in two days earlier. The delay will have cost Russell a dress rehearsal by the time the popular comedy opens its three-weekend run tomorrownight.

Such last-minute glitches are par for the course in theater at any level, and in Russell's world, losing a dress rehearsal hardly constitutes a crisis.

"I don't have music yet," Russell said calmly a week before opening. "The lighting director just walked past me, and he hasn't done anything yet.

"You know, it's community theater, and you get lighting designers coming in the Thursday before tech week. He's focusing lights during dress rehearsal next Thursday," Russel said.

One reason Russell can afford to be unruffled is that the cast has been rehearsing on the set anyway in the Columbia Community Players' rehearsal space. The troupe's rehearsal room has a linoleum floor that's almost as big as the Slayton House stage, and a ceiling that's nearly 20 feet high.

Said Russell, "We got a double-height set in there last time, for `Noises Off.' So we were actually able to put two stories in there."

"The Foreigner" is a comedy about a man who is so shy he would rather pretend that he is a foreigner who can't understand English than talk to people. The unexpected result is that the people in the woodsy lodge where the play is set talk so freely in front of him that soon he knows everyone's secrets - some of which are pretty wicked.

The show requires a tricky special effect as the plot reaches its climax. It comes as a surprise to the audience, which is why Russell says, "I can't give away the toughest technical challenge."

It was Russell's idea to do the play at Columbia Community Players, which chooses its three-play season with the help of a play-selection committee.

"I've always liked Larry Shue," Russell declares, adding that in his opinion "The Foreigner" is Shue's best play.

"It has everything: pathos, comedy, love, desire, hatred. It has the whole gamut of emotions throughout the play. And it has a happy ending, which is probably the best part - or one of the best parts, anyway," he says.

Joe Sears and JastonWilliams, the creators and stars of the "Greater Tuna" comedies, performed "The Foreigner" a few seasons ago with the ample Sears playing Betty Meeks, the kindly owner of the lodge. Russell laughs at the idea of playing Betty in drag, but says that's not how he's cast the part.

"We have a relatively young woman playing the old woman," he reports.

Tickets are $10; $9 for students and seniors.

The company offers a three-play subscription package for $25, but the list of subscribers is small. Still, on opening night, Slayton House - where the seats aren't reserved - is often full.

"Oh, yeah," Russell says. "But not with subscribers."

"The Foreigner" performances are tomorrow, Saturday, and June 2, 3, 4, 9 and 10. Times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. June 4. Information: 410-637-5289.

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