This ‘Foreigner’ won’t overstay welcome

Review: Theatre Charlotte's 'The Foreigner'

From left to right (standing) Patrick Smith, Vito Abate, Lee Thomas; left to right (seated) Matt Mitchell, Polly Adkins, Philip Robertson, Laura-Nelle Parnell. Photo Credit: Chris Timmons.

We’ve all encountered one or two “foreigners” in our time; a man or woman whose English isn’t perfect, traditions that are different and whose culture may seem, to you and I, elusive.

In Larry Shue’s comedy, “The Foreigner,” some down-home Georgia natives come face-to-face with such a man, Charlie Baker. But, as we learn in the opening scene, Baker is not a foreigner at all, but an Englishman whose social anxieties make it impossible for him to converse easily with others. He pretends to be from a foreign country and not speak or understand English, and as one can imagine, hilarity ensues.

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Theatre Charlotte is the perfect setting for such a play. Its intimate space of 221 seats allows the audience to truly become a part of this play’s small world, which takes place in one room of Betty Meeks’ Fishing Lodge Resort. Its rich history and rustic charm add to the southern ambiance one would expect from an old, backwoods inn.

Directed by theatre veteran Paige Johnston Thomas, “The Foreigner” was paced well and carried out its comedic timing perfectly. Through her direction, the play was able to convey a light-hearted mood with a sense of urgency, as if something big was just around the corner.

‘The Foreigner’

Theatre Charlotte
501 Queens Rd.
Jan. 25-Feb. 10
Tickets: $25
theatrecharlotte.org
704-372-1000

Technically, the show was simple, but effective. Its subtle tribute to the South and its love of taxidermy, over-stuffed furniture and old-fashioned Coke created an authentic setting for the audience. I could expect to walk into any small, local southern inn and find the same décor. The lighting was executed particularly well and helped the audience imagine scenes which took place outside the inn, just beyond the front door.

Clearly, the star of the show was Philip Robertson, who played the leading role of Charlie Baker. Charlie is a timid man, to say the least, and has trouble speaking to even his oldest friend, Froggy LaSueur, played by Vito Abate. Robertson does an outstanding job of conveying the absolute terror Charlie feels when encountered with social interaction; his entire body trembles, even down to the quivering of his lip and voice, and speaks with such uncertainty that the audience immediately feels empathy for him. But, Robertson really lets his acting chops shine when he steps into his comedic role. As Charlie the Englishman, he is a nervous and shy man; but as Charlie the foreigner, he is able to let loose and “acquire a personality” in the most outlandish ways. Robertson’s execution of Charlie’s invented language is brilliant; the gibberish sounds like an actual language. For a man who speaks little English throughout the play, his performance resonated with the audience.

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Betty Meeks, played by Polly Adkins, was so adorable I wanted to take her home and have her be my grandmother. Adkins embodied this character wholly and realistically and was so convincing, I half expected her to really have the slow, southern drawl of Betty. She was the perfect hostess, both charming and efficient, just the way a traditional southern woman would be. As owner of the inn, Betty interacted with every character in the show; Adkins had chemistry with each one, as if she had known them her entire life.

I was taken aback with the comedic performance of Matt Mitchell, who played a young boy named Ellard Simms. Ellard is a naíve boy with limited knowledge of the world and finds the foreigner fascinating, which Mitchell portrayed well. The comedic scene between Mitchell and Robertson at the breakfast table was so full of chemistry that it seemed like improv; natural and unrehearsed in the best sense. Mitchell has impeccable comedic timing that brought laughter enough to fill the theatre.

The Georgian and British accents rolled of the tongues of the actors quite well. Stand-outs were the British accent of Vito Abate and the southern accent of Polly Adkins. Although, I thought the execution of the redneck southern accent of Owen Musser, played by Patrick Smith, could have had a little more twang. But, he played the antagonist well; I really disliked Owen and found him to be annoying and immoral, which is the point of such a character.

Catherine Simms, played by Laura-Nelle Parnell, and Rev. David Marshall Lee, played by Lee Thomas, did well together as a betrothed couple who didn’t really love each other. Parnell and Thomas did well in creating a relationship that felt forced and distant. You could feel their awkward tension in the audience. Thomas did particularly well in portraying a two-faced Reverend, using his religion as a cover for his misdeeds. The audience audibly gasped when he was revealed, a tribute to the actor’s portrayal of his character.

The play, which is two hours long, flew by so quickly that I nearly lost track of time. Overall, I found the play to be hilarious and well worth the trip to Theatre Charlotte.

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