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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review
The Foreigner
The Porches Inn

I sometimes wonder, how does one obtain a personality?
It's no wonder that Charlie Baker (Peter Scolari), would like to know how one goes about acquiring a personality. Though the young British magazine proofreader who is the title character of Larry Shue's The Foreigner knows his way around punctuation marks and proper paragraphing, he is so devoid of charisma that his wife has cuckolded him with, at last count, twenty-three men. All, as he confides to Froggy, in more glamorous professions : "Actors, writers. . . criminals. . . vetenarians. . . "

Charlie's social ineptness drives both the humor and underlying seriousness that kept The Foreigner running for 686 performances at the Astor Place Theater in New York (with the playwright, who died prematurely in a plane accident, in the cast) and since then a community theater standard. When the extra-marital adventures of Charlie's wife are interrupted by a terminal illness, Charlie's well meaning friend, Sgt. Froggy LeSueur (Don Sparks), persuades him to leave her bedside long enough to cross the Atlantic with him to enjoy a three-day respite at a rundown fishing lodge near an army base where Froggy conducts an annual demolition class. To protect his super shy friend from unwanted social intercourse with landlady Betty Meeks (Betsy Palmer) and her guests, Froggy passes him off as a foreigner who neither speaks or understands English.

What follows is a Shue-in for using Charlie's disguise to expose everybody's peccadilloes. What's more, the red-necked villain Owen Musser (E.J. Carroll) and not very Godly Reverend Lee (James Barbour) excepted, their interaction helps them to become more complete individuals. This of course includes Charlie's acquiring the personality he thought was beyond his reach.

The shenanigans between Froggy's and Charlie's entrance into Anna Louizos' nicely detailed woodsy lodge to Charlie's metamorphoses from bland doormat to lovable charmer with personality-plus make for a farce that is broad enough to rival many a Saturday Night Live skit. At two hour and forty minutes, it's not quite the nonstop, highly charged hilarious evening it should be. The first act is especially hobbled by many stagnant moments with long pauses between laughs. Director Scott Schwartz has coaxed a funny and very human characterizations out of Peter Scolari, Don Sparks and Betsey Palmer. Scolari's Charley has the rubbery physicality of Bill Irwin. Sparks is spot on as the very British Froggy who comes to see himself as a bit of "Doctor Frankenstein." And Palmer is winning enough as Betty to make you wonder why she's been so long absent from the stage. Kevin Cahoon is a most amusing Ellard Simms. Alas, Sarah Avery's Catherine is way too shrill, E. J. Carroll lacks dimension as the villainous Owen and James Barbour seems woefully miscast as the Reverend Lee.

It's easy to see why Mr. Schwartz was attracted to The Foreigner since it bears more than a passing resemblance to the charming off-beat, off-Broadway musical Bat Boy (See CurtainUp's Review) -- which also combines whacky humor with a heart-warming transformation. Scolari's Charlie has many of the endearing qualities of Deven May's Bat Boy. Both shows are highlighted by hilarious English lessons. The difference is that Bat Boy had the benefit of a witty musical score. This twenty-year-old farce, even with the able Schwartz at the helm, is sporadically rather than non-stop funny and lacks Bat Boy's wildly imaginative flair.

The Foreigner, which was substituted when the originally planned production of And Then There Were None didn't work out, has the same golden oldie appeal of that much done Christie mystery. Both the show that wasn't and the show that is fit into what has proved to be a less than sparkling Main Stage season. Like Zorba (our review ) which was neither BTF's or Kander and Ebb's finest musical hour, and Quartet (our review) and A Sain't She Aint (our review) the pleasures offered are in a decidedly minor key, its parts more commendable than the whole. The Festival's one A-Okay standout production was the newly adapted Miss Julie mounted on its smaller stage.

The Foreigner

Author: Larry Shue
Director:Scott Schwartz
Cast: Sarah Avery/ Catherine Simms, James Barbour/Rev. David Marshall Lee, Kevin Cahoon/ Ellard Simms, Owen Musser/E.J. Carroll, Betsy Palmer/Betty Meeks, Peter Scolari/ Charlie Baker, Don Sparks/Sgt. FroggyLeSueur
Scenic Design: Anna Louizos;
Costumes: David Murin
Lights:Patricia Collins
Sound: Vincent Olivieri
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission
Berkshire Theatre Festival
Stockbridge, MA. 413/298-5536 www.berkshire
August 13, 2002-August 31, 2002
Performances: Monday through Saturday 8 pm; matinees Thursday at 2pm and Saturdays at 3pm -- $28 to $50.
Running time:
Reviewed by Elyse Sommerbased on August 17th performance
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