Found in translation

2nd Story's The Foreigner is delightful
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 18, 2010

Theater_2ndStory_main
SITUATIONAL SURREALISM Sciarra, Olson, Medina, and Hallenbeck.

The Foreigner, by Larry Shue, holds a special place in the muscle memory of my smiles and in my fond recollections of the early days of 2nd Story Theatre, which is staging it through September 5. It was there that I first saw this knee-slapping farce, in the mid-'80s. Pat Hegnauer was directing Ed Shea as Charlie, a shy British visitor to the States who is pretending to be a non-English-speaking foreigner so he can get some peace and quiet.

Shea, 2nd Story's artistic director, is co-directing the play with Hegnauer, his co-founder of the theater, apparently hoping to re-create the hilarious magic of the early production. Done. This take didn't bring back the tears of helpless laughter that the two extracted back when I was young and giddy, but my frequent mirthful outbursts were an appreciated replay.

Charlie this time around is played by Dante Sciarra, who many of you might recall from his days as a regular at Theater By the Sea. He brings to Charlie not Shea's minimalist, dazed underplaying but rather a sly, knowing silliness as the hitherto staid Brit gleefully puts on the yokels.

Charlie's offstage wife finds him "shatteringly boring," and she's consequently been known to host male guests in their shower. Wanting a restful three-day vacation, he is brought to a fishing lodge in rural Georgia by his friend Froggy LeSeur (Tom Oakes), who knows the friendly owner, Betty Meeks (Elizabeth Hallenbeck). She has never seen a real live foreigner, not in the flesh. Froggy fabricates a reason for the painfully shy Charlie to not talk to people, telling Betty that he is terribly self-conscious about not being able to speak English.

Playwright Shue learned in Japan that some cultures will forgive any blunder committed by a foreigner. Cleverly, he provides an additional reason for Charlie to keep up the pretense: people begin spilling secrets when they talk in his presence and they wouldn't take kindly to knowing he was eavesdropping, especially a couple of men who seem dangerous. One of them is an always-angry cracker named Owen Musser (Joe Henderson). His partner in slime is the ostensibly haloed Rev. David Lee (Ara Bohigian), who is about to marry the wealthy Catherine Simms (Erin Olson), a young woman he has diligently gotten pregnant. A debutante only a year before, reading in the newspaper about this year's coming-out party, Catherine wails that the poor dears don't know there's no going back in. Her simpleminded brother Ellard (Dillon Medina) fills out the cast.

The villainy stands in delicious contrast to the amiable goodness at hand. Evil Owen is the county building inspector, so he and David are working on getting Betty's lodge condemned so they can buy it for a song. David is also scheming to convince Catherine that her brother is too dimwitted to handle the half-million dollar inheritance she is authorized to give him. At one point he tells Ellard to bring a carrot up to his sister, which he does, after which David insists he said "candle." So it's all the more fun when Ellard starts "teaching" English words to Charlie. Pointing to a lamp, he makes sure his pupil notices that it's two syllables: "lay-ump." Charlie enjoys playing along. After two days he is speaking entire stilted sentences and pidgin paragraphs, as well as reading Shakespearean sonnets. What a talented teacher, all have to admit, as David grinds his teeth.

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