WEST VALLEY CITY — There’s a difficult balance in the nature of comedy—striking the elevated levels of humor, while allowing the resonance of serious moments to properly take effect. I was wholly impressed by Hale Centre Theatre’s The Foreigner‘s ability to do just that. The tone struck by the play really is quite silly, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was rollicking in laughter for a good part of the performance. Farcical elements contributed to an extremely light-hearted evening, and I was not put-off by the larger-than-life narrative of this production. A play that could have easily been a disorganized mess was tethered to a sense of plausibility by a talented set of actors that knew the scenes and seemed relaxed in their playing space.
Larry Shue‘s The Foreigner contains all the elements for a delightful comedy: romantic intrigue, caricatures, high stakes, physical hijinks, and more. The seamless interpretation on the Hale’s stage of this strong script made for an exciting performance. I was impressed by the pacing of this show. Energy moved in a way fitting to the tone of the play, and acquired momentum in moments that allowed for a tangible sense in the audience. I was quite literally sitting on the edge of my seat during a few key moments, enraptured by the action on stage and eagerly anticipating what was to follow. The actors individually handled the play’s content in such a way that made for a seemingly swift, two-act performance. I was never bored, and the length of production felt perfect for the comedy.
It all begins with a depressed and anxious Englishman, Charlie Baker, visiting Georgia for the sake of putting his troubled mind at ease. His friend, Froggy LeSueur (David Marsden), convinces the lodge’s owner, Betty, that Charlie is incapable of speaking or understanding English in the hopes that it will provide Charlie with a quiet little three day vacation. Charlie overcomes his anxiety about the people around him when he overhears the shocking contents of a private conversation between the beautiful Catherine Simms (Ashley Gardner Carlson) and her fiancee, Reverend David Marshall Lee (Mitch Hall). He falls naturally into the role of mute foreigner, and as such, manages to overhear a few more dastardly schemes—most notably Owen Musser’s (played by Oran Marc de Baritault) desire to close down lodge and have it converted into a meeting place for the local faction of the Ku Klux Klan. Betty, Catherine, and her brother, Ellard, all find a perfect listener in Charlie, and set out to teaching him English, all the while failing to realize he’s perfectly fluent. The Englishman plays his role perfectly, the events therein allowing for hilarious hijinks to ensue.
I was particularly impressed by the cohesion demonstrated by the cast. Because of their talent and Eric Jensen‘s direction there were no lulls in energy, and even in those moments when people were silent, action and chemistry kept the forward-moving momentum going. One favorite scene was he breakfast with Ellard (Brandon Green) and Charlie (Bryan Dayley). The two had an energetic stage chemistry and, without using as a word, managed to bring foster hysterical laughter from the audience. I eagerly anticipated the scenes between them simply because it seemed like the two actors were legitimately having fun on stage. Betty (Tanya Hale Radebaugh) only heightened the splendid dynamic with her entrances, and the three brought such a sense of enjoyment to the play. These three stood out among the cast as favorites, though it behooves me to mention that there really wasn’t a weak member in the cast. Everyone held their own and delivered a solid performance.
Technical elements supported the production, lending to a somewhat farcical air. I’d never been to the West Valley Hale, and so was quite enamored of the space. It is truly a beautiful theater with a lot of potential, and the technical elements absolutely capitalized on that. The set (Jennifer Stapley Taylor) in itself managed to capture the feel of a cozy Southern lodge and (having lived in the South myself for quite a while) I was transported back to that bluesgrassy, eccentric warmth that seems to be the picturesque ideal of Southern hospitality. Little “hick” details– like an antler phone and knitted throws in gaudy patterns made for some lovely eye candy. Costumes (Tamara Baker) worked in a similar way to make the characters into caricatures but still capturing their essence in a charming way. Actors could have easily been overpowered by some pieces of the costumes, but it ended up working in a cohesive fashion. Lighting (Adam Flitton) created a warm atmosphere, working in conjunction with other technical elements. Somehow it helped me to be aware more that this play was not as grounded in a realistic series of events, but should be taken lightly. Finally, sound design (Quinn Dietlin and Shane Steel) further perpetuated the notion of a stylized South, drawing on those token songs like “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” A few mike brushes interrupted the performance, but they didn’t necessarily distract from the overall flow.
Maybe The Foreigner isn’t life-changing. It wasn’t one of those pieces of theater where I felt as though my perspective had been shifted, or a little tidbit of truth had been revealed. It was, however, a beautiful piece of comedy that absolutely brought a smile to my face. How pleasant it was to enter the theater and be allowed to join in and laugh at a preposterous series of events, executed with a lovely precision. It was almost relieving to see actors having fun on stage, to see audience members forget themselves, laugh, and just enjoy being at the theater. The pace allowed for a brisk evening of theater, perfect for anyone looking to introduce a friend to live theater. I would whole-heartedly recommend this piece to theatergoers of all ages (though some intense scenes with KKK members later on might require some explanation for young children.)
All in all, I enjoyed myself. And I appreciated that immensely. Go see The Foreigner.