Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Foreigner

Blossom fireworks enhance laughter at Porthouse’s ‘THE FOREIGNER’

Just at the moment when a plot-changing explosion took place during Porthouse Theatre’s production of ‘THE FOREIGNER’ on opening night, a giant explosion of fireworks let loose following the conclusion of the “1812 Overture” at the Blossom Center Pavilion, which shares the grounds with Kent State’s Summer Theatre. The Porthouse audience broke out in thunderous and prolonged applause and laughter at the coincidence. How the cast held straight faces is a wonder, but they did, and continued on as if it was a planned occurrence.

The incident was a fitting conclusion to a hilarious evening of theatre!

Larry Shue’s ‘THE FOREIGNER’ is a comedy. In spite of a common belief that comedy is easy to do, it is one of the most difficult types of theatre to stage and perform. There is a tendency for directors and actors to overdo and milk laughs by overacting and adding much farcical goings on. This usually detracts rather than adds to the hilarity. Good comedy, based on clever lines which are presented in well-timed and delivered performances, leads to much more delight than overdone mannerisms. And, believe me, director Rohn Thomas and his well primed and talented cast, gets every deserved laugh out of Shue’s script!

‘THE FOREIGNER’ finds the pathologically shy Englishman, Charlie Baker, being brought to a resort-style fishing lodge in rural Georgia by Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur. In order to protect Charlie, Froggy concocts a story that Charlie is a resident of a “foreign” country and does not understand a word of English. Before long, Charlie finds himself privy to assorted secrets and scandals freely discussed in front of him by the other visitors, including knowledge of a pregnancy and an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to get the lodge as their meeting hall. Besides the English duo, the characters include a spoiled but introspective heiress, her dim-wit Forest Gump-like brother, her preacher fiancé who has a dark underside, a racist county property inspector, and the lodge’s owner.

Though the script will not challenge the quality of Shakespeare’s comedies, or even the writing of Neil Simon, it did win several Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. Unfortunately, the author, Larry Shue , who incidentally acted in the show’s original production, died in a plane crash a year after the show opened, not living to see the lasting popularity of his oft-performed script.

Eric van Baars, who has a wonderful ability to play comedy, is right on target as Charlie. His timing was impeccable. Tony Zanoni, as the dim-witted Ellard, is nothing short of brilliant. Paula Duesing is fun as the lodge’s owner and Robert Ellis is properly obnoxious as the hate mongering Owen. Though Amy Pawlukiewicz could have been a little more belle-like in order to enhance her transition into a “real” person, John Kolibab could have screamed a little less as Froggy, and Darren Nash could have developed a more realistic Reverend, the over-all effect is just out and out fun.

Ben Needham’s set design, Thomas Kouyeas Jr.’s lighting design, and Jason Potts’ sound design all enhance Thomas’s fine directing.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Porthouse’s ‘THE FOREIGNER’ is just out and out fun. Though other audiences won’t get the thrill of hearing the extra added fireworks explosions from Porthouse, there is more than enough verbal excitement and glee going on to assure patrons of a perfect night of summer-time hysterical escapism.