The Foreigner. At SBCC’s Garvin Theatre, Friday, October 20.
Reviewed by Bojana Hill
It’s hard enough being a foreigner, but now imagine being a shy foreigner. Not much more is needed for the foundation of Larry Shue’s comedy, The Foreigner. Two British friends — Froggy and Charlie — arrive in a rural Georgia town, where Froggy has been frequenting the fishing lodge. While Froggy (Justin Stark) is a tall, gregarious fellow, Charlie (Ed Lee) is the exact opposite: a timid and gentle man whose wife finds him so boring that she indulges in frequent affairs. Thus Froggy invents what he thinks is a brilliant idea to protect his friend from uncomfortable encounters. Charlie will pretend not to speak any English, but instead some exotic language from an unspecified faraway land. The plan actually works — largely because Betty Meeks (Betty Mann), the owner of the Fishing Lodge Resort, is a simple woman who wishes she had traveled and seen the world. She solves the communication problem by yelling very slowly at Charlie, who shrinks away every time, but she repeats it anyway.
The farcical elements of the show, creative and absurd as they are, would be only mildly successful without the superb casting of Lee as Charlie and Devin Scott as Ellard. In performance number 21 with the SBCC Theatre Group, Lee is like a fish in water. He is a talented comedian who puts his heart into this subtle, dynamic, and physical performance. Rick Mokler’s choice of an Asian actor for the lead underscores the gap between Charlie’s “foreignness” and the xenophobia of the locals — some of whom belong to the Ku Klux Klan. As Charlie, Lee transforms from a bespectacled, diffident man into a hilarious storyteller in his “native” tongue — a mixture of Russian, Esperanto, and who-knows-what-else. He even begins to enjoy his role, for it enables him to come alive: “Thank you for making me a foreigner. … I’m [actually] acquiring a personality … we are making each other complete,” Charlie exclaims in an aside.
Nowhere is that completeness more evident than in his relationship with Ellard, who resembles Forrest Gump. While Ellard, played wonderfully convincingly by Scott, may not be exactly qualified as an English teacher, he helps Charlie “learn” English. The slow southern drawl, the awkward movements — all is of a piece. The plot unfolds toward a predictable happy ending, but it is no less satisfying for that. As director Mokler suggested, “Comedy is best when it has heart, and when somebody pays a price for being the bad guy.” If you long for good, continuous laughter, you must see this Foreigner.