SARATOGA SPRINGS – When “The Foreigner” was first produced in 1984, it was seen as a jolly, light-hearted farce. The production that is playing at Home Made Theatre in Saratoga Springs through May 7 maintains all the comedic values in the piece, but because of today’s political climate, the play’s once seemingly innocent approach to foreigners now has more of an edge to it.
Wisely, director Patrick White does not try to make an overt political statement with the material. He guides his cast to find the humor in the writing and lets the playwright’s comical observations about narrow-minded hypocrites speak for themselves.
Thanks to this approach, the production serves the best of all worlds. It provides a night of light-hearted fun, yet gives you something to think about on the way home.
The plot revolves about Charlie, an obsessively shy Englishman who finds himself at a remote fishing camp in rural Georgia. His military friend Froggy must leave him alone for three days to train the American military in demolition techniques. In order to prevent Charlie from having to interact with others at the fishing camp they invent a story that has Charlie posing as a foreigner who can neither speak nor understand English.
As might be expected, the ruse works in reverse. Charlie is regarded as a novelty. Some people treat him as if he is invisible and freely speak of nefarious plans in front of him. Others see him as the perfect therapist who can listen to their problems without judgment or comment.
Too there are the gentle townspeople see him as a person who is even lower on the social ladder than are they. They bond with his isolation and try to help him adapt to their world. Though naïve and gullible they provide most of the fun in the show.
The sweet mother-figure Betty, who is nicely played by Debra Bercier, explains to the rather simple Ellard that Charlie can’t understand a word of English - “No matter how loud you speak.” Josh Tracy does a nice job showing how Ellard blossoms as he teaches Charlie to speak coherent English within a day.
The most important role is Charlie, the man with low self -esteem who becomes a leader in order to rescue his new friends from those who would do them harm. Simply said- if you don’t care about Charlie the play doesn’t work. At Home Made Theatre, thanks to the work of Nick Casey, you love Charlie.
It’s all played on a set that recreates a fishing lodge, but more importantly serves the elaborate and extremely funny plan that Charlie devises to repel a dangerous plot of the KKK. The complicated scene works perfectly, thanks to White’s staging, the energy of the performers, Dale Conklin’s scenic design and Stephanie Van Sandt’s lighting.
The play itself works because of playwright Larry Shue’s gift for language and his understanding of human nature.
The very enjoyable production continues at Home Made Theatre at the Little Theatre in Saratoga State Park through May 7. For schedule and ticket information call 587-4427.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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