THE FOREIGNERby Larry Shue
Plaza Theatre Company
Directed by Luke Hunt
Stage Management by Crystal Todd
Scene Design by JaceSon P. Barrus
Costume Design by Stacey Greenawalt
Lighting and Sound Design by G. Aaron Siler
Props Design by Milette Siler
Props Assistance by Garrett Whitehead and Dana Siler
Sound Board Operation by Cameron Barrus
Charlie Baker - Robert Shores
S/Sgt. "Froggy" LeSueur - Luke Hunt
Betty Meeks - Trich Zaitoon
Rev. David Marshall Lee - David Johnson
Catherine Simms - Jenn Fortson
Owen Musser - Michael Lain
Ellard Simms - Jerry Downey
Reviewed Performance: 1/14/2012
Reviewed by Richard Blake, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Foreigner was first produced at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in January of 1983, and the boisterous laughter it created there made the play an enormous local success. Named by the American Theatre Critics Association as one of the best regional theatre plays of the 1983-1984 seasons, The Foreigner was subsequently produced Off-Broadway in November of 1984 at the Astor Place Theatre in New York City. Lukewarm responses from the critics failed to quench the play's enormous audience appeal and, as Laurie Winer reported in a 1988 New York Times article, ``one of the few Off-Broadway plays to overcome negative reviews, The Foreigner played 685 performances and fully recouped its $250,000 investment.''
In 1980, Shue studied with a theatre company in Japan. He developed the central idea for The Foreigner when he discovered that the Japanese would tolerate even his most bizarre behavior (because he was unaware of Japanese social customs), dismissing his inappropriate actions as the conduct of an outsider. The Foreigner remains Shue's most highly regarded work and is considered the most perfectly realized of his plays.
The Foreigner is a well-rounded production with comedy, drama, farce, and a bit of darkness. It is because of this wide variety of events that producers either love to present it or shy away. I won't reveal the plot twist(s) but it will definitely shock you. Plaza presents it in a very good way, making it the turning point in the production, just as it should be.
Direction by Luke Hunt is very well executed and he features his actors' talents well. Plaza is an "in the round" space which always poses a challenge to producers. Mr. Hunt uses his stage space very well and effortlessly pulls the audience into every scene in a seamless fashion.
Scene design by JaceSon P. Barrus is simple yet to the point and fills out the space well. Stage exit doors represent different rooms in "Betty Meek's Fishing Lodge Resort" and a raised area featuring a bar leads to the upstairs rooms of the lodge. That area is also the location of the "major twist" in the production and Mr. Barrus provides the perfect design for it. A couch, chair, dining room table and small wood burning stove round out the space and fit everything perfectly. If you pay close attention to the show and its references, you'll even get a surprise in the lobby that Mr. Barrus added. I noticed it and it made me smile and appreciate the subtlety.
Costume design by Stacey Greenawalt is basic and perfect for the characters. None of the characters are "over the top" unless need be and subtle changes make for perfect accents to the production. Ms. Greenawalt obviously understands the written characters and demonstrates that understanding, for example, with mismatched shoes on the "slow" character of Ellard Simms in one of his scenes. The attention to detail is shown throughout the production and executed well.
Lighting and Sound design by G. Aaron Siler is well done and accents the action very well. Background effects and major lighting effects are just right and doesn't distract from the action on stage. There were a few late cues on mics for character entrances but nothing that was terribly distracting. The only issue I had with the sound is the placement of the body mic transmitters that seem problematic for the actors and their costuming.
This cast works together very, very well, especially since in the program noted that over half of the cast is new to Plaza or new to the stage! The cast is led by Robert Shores as Charlie who does an amazing job with his role, especially since most of his stage time is as someone who doesn't speak English (thus, the Foreigner). He uses facial expressions, body movement and a side-splitting version of his "own language" that keeps you involved, laughing, and in some cases sympathizing for the poor man. His portrayal is spot-on and leads you through this myriad of action seamlessly.
Luke Hunt as Froggy keeps you thoroughly involved with his character. Opening the show and setting the story for the audience, Mr. Hunt has to do it just right... that he does splendidly. His accent, playful nature and wonderful timing make him a pleasure to watch. Being the director also, he definitely spends as much time on his character as he does on the whole production, which can be difficult to achieve when a director is also an actor. You will really fall in love with Froggy.
Trich Zaitoon as Ms. Meeks has put a wonderful spin on her presentation in this role. I've seen many productions of The Foreigner and her character portrayal is excitedly fresh and new. She's not too ditzy yet not too serious, always paying attention, and then not, Ms. Zaitoon is such a pleasure on stage you just don't want her to go... but when she does, you never know just what to expect when she returns... bravo to her!
David Johnson as Rev. Lee does a great job instilling the back story into this production. His presentation of two sides of the same story works very well and the end of the show is definitely a surprise, in fact, the audience actually gasped out loud when it occurred. To get that kind of reaction you must involve the audience in your character, and that he does. This is one character you love... then hate!
Jenn Fortson as Catherine leads you on an adventure of personal and perspective growth. You listen to her every word, follow her every moment, and truly fall in love with her character. Ms. Fortson is perfect in this role and plays an important part in this story. She has very subtle actions and close ties to the underlying story of the play and without her perfect execution, the audience will be lost in the story. This is an amazing performance by Ms. Fortson, simply amazing.
Owen is played by Michael Lain is done very well. His biography states this is his first community production but you would never know. He does very well as the redneck buddy with a surprising secret. He never lets on to what his character is all about until the story requires him to, and when he does it draws shock from the audience. I know the story line and Mr. Lain's portrayal, especially in this pivotal moment, is superb. Sometimes I had to listen intently to some dialogue delivery, but with more stage experience I believe that will much more improve.
Jerry Downey, playing Ellard, is a true pleasure to watch. His character can sometimes be played over-the-top but in this case Mr. Downey executes the role perfectly. His body language and presentation make you simply love his character, even in the darkest times. He never goes too far unless the script calls for it, and when that happens... watch out as you're in for one heck of a bumpy ride!
Overall this is a well-oiled cast, working well with each other to tell a story that will entertain you in every sense of the word, and is a great start to the Plaza Theatre 2012 season!
Plaza Theatre Company, 111 S. Main St., Cleburne, TX 76033
Runs through January 28th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturday
matinees at 3:00 pm
Ticket prices range from $12-$15 with group rates available.
For more info and tickets go to www.plaza-theatre.com or contact the box office Monday-Saturday, 10:00am to 6:00pm, by calling (817) 202-0600.