Arts & Culture

‘The Foreigner’ uses comedy to teach tolerance at Oceano’s Great American Melodrama

Mealtime takes a comical turn for Ellard (Toby Tropper), Betty (Suzy Newman) and Charlie (Billy Breed) in “The Foreigner” at the Great American Melodrama in Oceano.
Mealtime takes a comical turn for Ellard (Toby Tropper), Betty (Suzy Newman) and Charlie (Billy Breed) in “The Foreigner” at the Great American Melodrama in Oceano.

The clever comedy “The Foreigner” returns to the stage at the Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville in Oceano. The play centers on the importance of tolerance and acceptance, which resonates today more than ever.

Written by American playwright Larry Shue, “The Foreigner” premiered at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 1983 and then opened off-Broadway in New York City in 1984. It received two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. The play was last produced by the Melodrama 10 years ago.

In “The Foreigner,” shy Englishman Charlie Baker (Billy Breed) visits a rural Georgia fishing lodge with his friend, Staff Sgt. Froggy Lesueur (Lawrence Lesher). To help his introverted friend avoid conversations, Froggy tells the elderly lodge owner, Betty Meeks (Suzy Newman), that Charlie is from an exotic country and can’t speak English. At first, Charlie is hesitant with this deception but soon embraces the role of a foreigner.

Also staying at the lodge are Rev. David Marshall Lee (Jeff Salsbury), his wealthy fiancée, Catherine Simms (Eleise Moore), and her dim-witted brother, Ellard (Toby Tropper). Over time, Betty, Catherine and Ellard grow fond of Charlie and realize how their differences make for a special friendship.

Charlie then discovers that David is secretly plotting with local building inspector Owen Musser (Matt Katzenmeier) to take over the lodge, along with Catherine’s inheritance. Feeling threatened by Charlie’s presence, small-minded Owen vows to get rid of the odd stranger with the help of the terrible Ku Klux Klan. With quick thinking and ingenuity, Charlie and the others devise a way to thwart David and Owen’s diabolical plan.

Directed by Melodrama artistic director Dan Schultz, this fast-paced and rowdy romp features a very talented cast. Breed is outstanding as Charlie, delivering hilarious facial expressions and physical movements. One of the play’s funniest moments is when Charlie mimics Ellard’s every move over breakfast. Tropper is engaging as the gentle and innocent Ellard.

Katzenmeier plays the villainous Owen with incredible force and comical brilliance. Newman portrays Betty with amusing spunk and high energy. Moore is feisty as Catherine, and Salsbury’s David is a strong, subtle blend of good and evil. Rounding out the ensemble is Lesher, who effectively captures Froggy’s cheerful and confident attitude.

“The Foreigner” takes place inside the lobby of the rustic lodge. The set is expertly designed by Brandon PT Davis with an abundance of details, including a fireplace, candy counter and fishing memorabilia. Renee Van Neil’s costumes consist of blue jeans, overalls and slacks for the men and simple cotton dresses for the women.

The lighting designer is Tim Seawell, and the stage manager is Amanda Johnson.

Following each performance of “The Foreigner,” the Melodrama presents “The Reading Vaudeville Revue.” Through a variety of comic skits and songs, the revue celebrates the magic of books, spoofing famous fictional characters such as Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes while poking fun at book clubs and libraries.

“The Reading Vaudeville Revue” is written and directed by Matt Koenig, with choreography by Casey Canino and musical direction by accompanist Ilana Atkins.

Maybe it was a coincidence that the Melodrama chose to bring back “The Foreigner” during such a turbulent time in our society. But in today’s chaotic world, the lighthearted message of the play goes a long way to remind us that it is our differences which bring us together.

The Foreigner

7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday; through March 5

Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville, 1863 Front St., Oceano

$20 to $27

805-489-2499 or www.americanmelodrama.com

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