THE FOREIGNERBy Larry Shue
Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players
Director – Jay Cornils
Assistant Director – Freddy Martinez
Producer – Hazel Bell
Stage Manager – Mallory Sellers
House Manager – Sheila Shirley
Set Design – Jay A Cornils
Set Construction – Mik Brown, Chris Shirley
Scenic Artist – Stacey Greenawalt
Costumer – Stacey Greenawalt
Props Mistress – Corlis Cornils
Lightning Design – Alan Meadows
Lighting Operator – Michelle Holcomb
Sound Design – Mik Brown, Aaron Siler
Sound Operator – Mik Brown
Stage Crew and Additional Support Staff – Chris Shirley, Hunter Stepherson
Froggy Lesueur – Bud Gillett
Charlie Baker – Clark Hackney
Betty Meeks – Angela Burkey
Rev. David Marshall Lee – Quentin Scott
Catherine Simms – Hannah Kellar
Owen Messer – Tim Herndon
Ellie Simms – Erin Ivey
Reviewed Performance: 9/16/2018
Reviewed by Kathleen Morgan, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Before the show began, I had plenty of time to take in the set design. The old fishing lodge in which the show takes place was carefully and thoughtfully pieced together. Adorning the walls were quaint decorations reminiscent of typical B&Bs, the wall behind the stove was blackened, the doors were dingy in the areas where they’re most frequently touched, and the service counter had all the typical check-in accoutrements. One immediately had the impression that this was a cheerful and well-loved home.
After the lights went up, we were introduced to Froggy Lesueur (Bud Gillett), the British military trainer who is accompanied by his friend, Charlie Baker, in the midst of a torrential downpour. Gillett confidently played a headstrong military man charged with the task of trying to cheer up a good friend in the midst of more than one personal crisis. Though Gillett’s British accent was inconsistent (and therefore, distracting) throughout the show, it didn’t detract from his acting. Gillett excelled in his role, particularly when he was describing his scheme to protect Charlie from speaking (or being spoken to!) by insisting that Charlie was a “foreigner” who understood no English. His on-stage chemistry with lodge owner Betty Meeks was particularly engaging and fun to watch.
As for Froggy’s friend Charlie Baker, I could not dream up a more perfect performance than the one Clark Hackney delivered if I tried. First of all, the range of emotions, attitudes, and reactions that Hackney delivered were many, varied, and all perfectly timed. Charlie starts off as a man who not only piteously believes himself to be boring, but is also believed to be boring by others. However, as the characters get to know him and draw conclusions about him in spite of his silence, he truly becomes a new man. It takes a downright phenomenal actor to convey as much personality as Hackney did through a range of scenes where he stays completely silent the entire time. Hackney depicted subtle, yet genuine facial expressions when he was listening to the other characters when he knew he was not being watched, and yet he maintained a daft, goofy smile when he knew he was being observed. His awareness of everyone and everything going on onstage was acute. As Charlie grew more and more confident in himself and in his mission to help Betty Meeks, he started taking more risks, and taking delight in them too. When allowing Ellie to “teach” him English, he affected a foreign but believable accent that was wonderfully goofy. He went so far as to tell an entire folktale in pure gibberish, doing so with unparalleled confidence and comedic timing. I never thought that a story exclusively comprised of nonsense words would have me reeling with vociferous laughter! Hackney continued to outdo himself throughout the night. In an effort to scare Owen, and later, the Ku Klux Klan, Hackney positively erupted with energy, bellowing out ominous warnings and shouting phrases filled with disturbing imagery- so naturally, he succeeded. Of course, Hackney is not just impressive for his energy, but for his mastery of his character growth. Charlie allowed himself to be more mischievous (particularly around Owen), and more kind and gentle with the female characters as the show progressed. Through Hackney’s flawless delivery, Charlie Baker truly came into his own and found himself by the end of the play.
As superb as Hackney’s performance was, I’d have to say that Betty Meeks (Angela Burkey) stole the show. A younger actress playing a much older woman, everything from her stilted gait, to her shrieks of delight, remained impressively high-energy and believable throughout the show. Burkey perfectly captured the range of emotions of an older woman who takes sheer delight in meeting new people despite her ongoing fear of being forced out of her own home. Intentionally cringe-worthy, her bouts of shouting at Charlie (in an effort to project her voice, thinking this would help his understanding of English) were spirited and hysterical. Burkey’s Betty was my ideal of a spunky grandmother ready for adventure!
Betty’s primary tenants are Rev. David Marshall Lee (Quentin Scott) and his fiancé, the wealthy Catherine Simms. Though unassuming and likeable at first, Rev. David soon became the quiet villain of the show. Scott initially presented himself as the clean-cut, family-man, do-gooder pastor. When his fiancé, Catherine, announced her unexpected (and unwanted) pregnancy, he was the picture of consolation and compassion. However, the Reverend had his ulterior motives. Little by little, Scott clued us in to his character’s insidious designs. Scott’s sneaky, yet confident demeanor was perfectly suited for this role. Equally suited for her part was his fiancé Catherine, played by Hannah Kellar. Early on in the show, Kellar burst onto the stage in a fury, revealing a pregnancy that her husband assured was impossible. Kellar’s rage was explosive and truly emulated the anguish that any woman in the same situation would feel. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Catherine soften throughout the play, and to witness how Kellar smoothly handled that transition. Everything from her frustration with her dim-witted sister Ellie, to her pride in seeing Ellie transform, to her vulnerability in opening up to Charlie showed Kellar’s sensitivity and range as an actress.
That allegedly dim-witted sister, Ellie, was portrayed by Erin Ivey. Ivey is one of those rare performers who has you truly convinced that their character onstage is exactly like their personality in “real life.” Characterized early on as dense, potentially to the point of mental retardation, the audience did not have high expectations for Ellie from the get-go. However, the moment you realize that David is setting Ellie up in order for his fiancé to withhold the family fortune from her, you start to have second thoughts. Although not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Ellie proves to her family that she’s not as simple as she seems with Charlie’s help. Ivey gracefully handles this transition of a young girl who’s downtrodden and constantly berated, to that of a cheerful young girl who grows in joy as she grows in friendship with Charlie. Her slow-as-molasses manner of speech fit perfectly with her character and remained consistent throughout. Bravo, Erin Ivey!
Last but not least, Tim Herndon played the Klan leader and rabble-rouser, Owen Messer. From his first moments onstage in his tattered Def Leppard shirt to his final moments in full Klan regalia, Herndon was rightly repulsive. Everything about him screamed skeevy low-life. His backwater accent was perfect for his character, as was his literal swagger across stage. One of his most powerfully disturbing scenes came when he was trying to see if Charlie was faking his ignorance of English, by painting a gory and sick picture of Charlie’s supposedly dead mother. I have to say, as disturbing as Herndon’s character was, it was almost satisfying to see a Klan member be so repugnant! Tim Herdon did an exceptional job in bringing this unsavory character to life.
The Foreigner was undoubtedly the most hilarious show I have seen in ages! This superb cast hit it out of the park by perfectly executing everything about their characters, whether it was their mannerisms, energy, or just the way they spoke. Director Jay Cornils nailed the comedic timing, both physical and verbal. I was particularly pleased to see a show that had a sly social commentary on welcoming foreigners and condemning white nationalists.
Whether Cleburne is in your backyard or an hour away, this show is worth every minute! Neither my guest nor I could stop laughing, and I can’t imagine a better way to spend an evening.
Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players
September 14 – 30
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sunday matinee at 2:30 pm
Cleburne Conference Center- 1501 W. Henderson Street, Cleburne, TX
To purchase tickets, visit the box office, Cleburne Chamber of Commerce, or the Carnegie Players website
Adults - $15
Senior/Student - $12
Children under 10 - $8