Clash of the cultures
Durango Lively Arts Co. stages 'The Foreigner'

George Maxted and Kim Allen discuss “foreign” policy during a recent rehearsal of the Durango Lively Arts Co.’s production of “The Foreigner.”The local version of the award-winning play is set to open this Friday at the Durango Arts Center./Photo by Todd Newcomer

by Lainie Lowndes

What do you get when you mix two offbeat British gentlemen with a handful of eccentric, Georgian mountain folk? A delightfully different comedy cocktail with an underlying message of tolerance. “The Foreigner,” written by Larry Shue and directed by Judy Hook, is the latest production by the Durango Lively Arts Co. The play is set in a not-too-distant summer in a quaint fishing lodge in rural Georgia. As the lights go up, the audience is introduced to a kind-hearted British chatter-box named Froggy LeSeur (played by George Maxted) and his unfortunate friend and compatriot, Charlie Baker (portrayed by Mike Brumbaugh). Froggy is a military man sent to the States on a mission, the gist of which remains somewhat obscure throughout the play. But Froggy’s real quest in life seems to be to make others happy, and he is more focused on cheering up his chum than on any duty to the queen.

Across the pond, Charlie is employed as a proofreader for a science fiction magazine and is married to an unfaithful and seemingly cruel wife. Charlie professes to love her deeply despite her numerous infidelities and perhaps clings to the relationship due to his irrational fear of strangers. Froggy has brought his friend along with hope that three days by the lake will breathe new life into Charlie’s glum existence.

In order for Charlie to obtain some much-needed solitude, Froggy concocts a scheme to tell the lodge owner, Betty Meeks (played by Kim Allen), and the assorted guests of the cabin that Charlie is a stranger to both the United States and the English language. After learning that Betty longs for a taste of the world outside of her secluded mountain life, he figures he’s got the perfect plan to please everyone.

At first Betty shows a bit of hesitation, asking, “He ain’t - he ain’t a Communist is he?” Froggy is quick to put her mind at ease by responding with, “Wot, ’im? Naaow. Naaow – ’e’s got a stack o’ credit cards in ’is wallot that thick.”

Once Froggy has convinced Betty that he hasn’t just dropped Joseph Stalin off on her doorstep, all that is left for Froggy to do is to tell Charlie his4 peculiar plan and depart for his military duties. Not surprisingly, Charlie is less than thrilled by the news that his pal, however good intentioned, has entwined him in a harebrained plot. However, Froggy has a talent for persuasion and tells Charlie, “Look, remember wot you said? You don’t want ter seem rude. Well, this way yer won’t be. You’re waited on ’and and foot, not a word spoken, right? Lovely. Wot do you have to do? Nothin.’ Wot do you have to say? Nothin.’ Are they offended? No. They love yer for it.”

Stephen Juhl and Chelsea Winslow debate their wedding date./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

Once Froggy has convinced Betty that he hasn’t just dropped Joseph Stalin off on her doorstep, all that is left for Froggy to do is to tell Charlie his4 peculiar plan and depart for his military duties. Not surprisingly, Charlie is less than thrilled by the news that his pal, however good intentioned, has entwined him in a harebrained plot. However, Froggy has a talent for persuasion and tells Charlie, “Look, remember wot you said? You don’t want ter seem rude. Well, this way yer won’t be. You’re waited on ’and and foot, not a word spoken, right? Lovely. Wot do you have to do? Nothin.’ Wot do you have to say? Nothin.’ Are they offended? No. They love yer for it.”

And love him for it they do. Before Charlie can tell Betty the truth, he becomes tangled in the sordid secrets of the other guests. Thinking him ignorant, they carry on very private conversations in his presence. He quickly becomes everyone’s favorite listener and the audience soon learns that Charlie’s little lie is far less selfish and deceptive than the covert operations of those around him.

Meet Catherine Simms (portrayed by Chelsea Winslow), a recently deflowered, twentysomething, Southern belle who is engaged to a smooth-talking and extremely ambitious young Christian minister named Rev. David Marshall Lee (played by Stephen Juhl). The two are not set to be married until the fall, but unexpected circumstances may cause them to move the wedding day considerably closer. The good Reverend won’t mind changing the date, for he has a hidden agenda of his own, the details of which are unwittingly revealed to Charlie as he sits silently on the sidelines of all the assorted scheming.

It seems that old Betty’s fishing lodge is due to be condemned if she doesn’t fix a flaw in the brick work foundation. She has managed to scrape together enough money to buy the materials but can not afford to pay a brick layer for his labor. David appears sympathetic, but Betty’s misfortune is just the thing he needs to get her place out from under her and into the hands of himself and his good-old-boy buddy, Owen.

Owen (played by Benjamin Bailey-Buhner), is the only truly obvious character in the performance. He is an unrelenting redneck with a devious plan to help Rev. David acquire Betty’s place at the lowest possible price. He also possesses the greater ambition of ridding the U. S. of A. of any and all but the whitest and most Christian folks in residence. As one might imagine, he is none too pleased to learn of Charlie’s arrival and only too happy to greet him with malice, “Well ...’Zat right? A foreigner, huh? Well, we don’t gets’ many o’ your kind in these parts. Why last time I saw a foreigner, he was wrigglin’ on the end o’ my bayonet.”

Though tempted to reveal his true identity to Owen and tell him off, Charlie opts for restraint and decides that a greater good can be achieved by turning his attention to Catherine’s young, awkward brother, Ellard (portrayed by Trey Heath). Charlie befriends the boy through a series of comedic antics and before long has everyone convinced that Ellard is a gifted English teacher and that Charlie is his star pupil. Charlie soon uses his “newfound” speaking abilities to make Owen look like a jackass. Being the spiteful hick that he is, Owen seeks to enact revenge and calls upon “The Invisible Army” to help him. Charlie and his new pals must do some quick thinking to save their hides. When all is said and done, the team of unlikely allies comes up with a comical and effective plan.

“The Foreigner” is a fun, award-winning play by a gifted playwright who died in a plane crash just as his star was on the rise. Last year, Matthew Broderick played the role of Charlie in a New York production of the play. The Durango cast and crew do a fine job of pulling the performance together. Director Judy Hook shows careful attention to detail and the cast works hard on what can be tricky dialects. The youngster, Trey Heath gives an especially charming performance that is reminiscent of Daniel Radcliff in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Benjamin Bailey-Buhner does an excellent job of playing the character that everyone loves to hate. Catherine Simms and Stephen Juhl have great chemistry as the soon-to-weds, and Kim Allen and George Maxted bring the show together with their witty playfulness. •

George Maxted gets his English on as he portrays Froggy LeSaur in the DLAC production of “The Foreigner.”/Photo by Todd Newcomer

 

 

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