The Foreigner – Hee Haw Haw
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Boy, when you go to Vagabond on opening night, you get two shows for the price of one. The audience, mostly older folks, board members and such, have quite a unique relationship with the performance – and it’s an interactive one. They know the actors, they know the scripts, they know the stage. They don’t feel the need to whisper. At all. In fact, one lovely lady sitting a few rows in front of me gave away an important plot element (incorrectly, thank goodness) at the tippy top of her voice at a silent, emotional point in the show. And she got a laugh! The Foreigner, currently playing at Vags, is set at Betty Meek’s Fishing Lodge Resort, Tilghman County, Georgia – and that’s about all you need to know about what kind of comedy you’re in for. Charlie Baker (Eric C. Stein) is an Englishman abroad in Appalachia for some R & R. To say that Charlie suffers from social anxiety is rather understating the case. He’s more like a social black hole. He can barely interact with his friend, Sgt. Froggy (Ian Bonds), who is hooking up his vakay. Thinking about talking with other guests makes him break out in hives as big as golf balls, so Froggy, a good sort, tells the kind-hearted proprietress, Betty Meeks (Carol Evans), that Charlie is a visitor from an exotic land who does not speak English. This is the sparky gimmick that lights the show. The other folks, including the Rev. David Marshall Lee (David Shoemaker), his intended, processed-meat heiress Catherine Simms (Amanda Gatewood), her slow-witted brother Ellard (Tavish Forsyth) and local thug Owen Musser (Steven Shriner) treat Charlie as if he’s a potted plant, not hesitating to spill the beans about their own secret lives right in front of him. Things get tangly as the meek Charlie begins to rather enjoy his role as a Princess Caraboo and, for the first time in his humdrum life, is treated as interesting and important and fun. Veteran director Steve Goldklang could direct this shiz in his sleep, and it’s lucky for him that the play is as funny as it is, because he kind of does. I mean, it chugs along just fine, but I sensed a bit of a lack of refined vision here that could have pushed it from good to great. Not that the actors aren’t holding up their end of the bargain. Eric C. Stein’s Charlie is a precious little mouse that we can’t help but root for. Damned if he isn’t just frolicsome, especially as he begins to talk in his “language” (in a voice that sounds just like the Mayor of Munchkinville) which is gibberish by way of Georgia. Stein even brings a bit of gravitas to a light-as-a-feather production, hitting some rather poignant notes around his Mr. Cellophane existence. Carol Evans is a joy to watch (as usual) and her Betty is right on the money as a rather daft Golden Girl who is happy as a clam to finally see one of those furrineers she’s heard so much about. Tavish Forsyth, an unknown bit of new talent (his bio says he’s still a student), is a certified QT and his Ellard was a welcome sunspot of a performance for me – some of the most side-splitting moments in the show came from Ellard and Charlie’s ESL sessions. Speaking of new faces, Amanda Gatewood generally holds her own as Catherine, though she struggles from time to time with focus, she brings a fun earthiness to an oft unfortunately ingenue-only role. I was pleased to see that David Shoemaker, who is usually stuck with those “nice but generally ineffective guy” parts can get down with some genuine smarmy creepishness. And Baltimore’s resident bad boy, Steven Shriner (seriously, I feel like if someone threw him in as Prince Charming sometime we’d all get a beautiful surprise) is a consummate pro who is having a chicken-fried ball as the villainous Owen. The down-home cabin set (design by Roy Steinman and Maurice “Moe”Conn) was fetching, if a touch dark, in that ugly-cool Anthropologie window kind of way. I have to say, though, that the show was terribly overlit in places (lighting design by Stanley Kudzin). Lights up should not startle the audience. And here is a note for ALL Baltimore lighting designers: learn to love the black out, especially for comedy. The slow fade does you no favors and it KILLS the joke to have the actors holding like figures in a fucking wax museum. Black. OUT.
BOTTOM LINE: Oh, Foreigner, U. R. Pufnstuf. It’s about as deep as a puddle, but it’s cute, well-done and mostly gelled. It’s spring, anyway, no one wants sturm und drang. Go on and laugh, it’s good for ya…uh…y’all.
Running at Vagabond Players until May 18th.
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