Arts & Culture

‘The Foreigner’ offers plenty of laughs, drama

The Foreigner’s cast members are (clockwise from left): Betty Meeks (Patty Thayer), Owen Musser (Darren Doran), “Froggy” LeSueur (Darrell Haynes), Rev. David Lee (Bobby Kendrick), Catherine Simms (Casey Canino), Charlie Baker (Mike Mesker) and Ellard Simms (Sean McCallon).
The Foreigner’s cast members are (clockwise from left): Betty Meeks (Patty Thayer), Owen Musser (Darren Doran), “Froggy” LeSueur (Darrell Haynes), Rev. David Lee (Bobby Kendrick), Catherine Simms (Casey Canino), Charlie Baker (Mike Mesker) and Ellard Simms (Sean McCallon). Courtesy of Jamie Foster Photography

Plenty of laughs are in store for audiences at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s play, “The Foreigner,” along with some disturbing drama.

The action takes place at a small fishing lodge in rural Georgia. Views through a window next to the inn’s door show an impending spring storm.

Playwright Larry Shue conjured up a unique plot and some unusual characters for this production — and director Suzy Newman selected the ideal cast.

The unlikely hero Charlie Baker (Mike Mesker) transforms nearly everyone’s lives during the course of the play.

The timid man is somewhat reluctantly brought to the inn for a three-day rest by the charismatic British Army man “Froggy” Le Sueur (Darrell Haynes), a frequent guest. When Froggy learns that Charlie is petrified about socializing, he quickly hatches a plan.

Lodge owner Betty Meeks (Patty Thayer) is thrilled when Froggy tells her that his buddy is from a foreign land and neither speaks nor understands English.

Other guests are the feisty heiress Catherine Simms (Casey Canino), her dim-witted younger brother Ellard Simms (Sean McCallon), and her fiance, the Rev. David Marshall Lee (Bobby Kendrick). Obnoxious local building inspector Owen Musser (Darren Doran) drops in to throw his weight around.

With no experience with anyone from far-off lands, Betty talks to Charlie as loudly as possible to make herself understood. Surprisingly, this hackneyed comedic gimmick is hilarious, especially as the timid Charlie, unaccustomed to his new role, cringes as she hollers in his face. And what a face it is. Rubbery as a fishing lure, his countenance changes as the occasion requires. Charlie struggles like a bass on a line as he pretends to neither speak nor understand English.

The crux of the plot: the building inspector is about to condemn the dilapidated structure. Charlie learns that Owen has nefarious reasons for doing so, but is helpless to warn the others. Another villain turns out to be the Rev. Lee, who is assisting Owen in his dirty deed.

Believing in her handsome betrothed Rev. Lee’s goodness, young Catherine has forsaken her life as a debutante to be his bride. But when she tells him she is pregnant, she shrieks more like a police siren than a Southern belle. Believing they were alone, she is horrified to discover Charlie’s slight figure slumped in an armchair.

This is the first of many occasions when Charlie is made privy to confidential information.

The most endearing of the characters is Ellard. Even though the boy is a few bricks shy of a full load, he’s not the total simpleton everyone assumes. By taking Charlie under his wing, each gets a boost in self-esteem.

Charlie’s friend, Froggy, hops in and out between demonstrating explosives on a nearby Army post. So Charlie has no opportunity to tell his friend what is going on.

When Owen, a stereotypical racist, takes sadistic pleasure in taunting Charlie, he nearly jumps out of his sagging dungarees when Charlie leaps on a table and acts possessed. It’s as though Charlie’s profession as a sci-fi copy editor subliminally provided the skills to switch personas, booming voice and all.

Later, when Charlie ignites the wrath of the short-fused Owen, the bully retaliates by threatening to bring in the Ku Klux Klan. It is jarring to find this hate group in a comedy, but playwright Shue doesn’t use it for cheap laughs. The sight of the hooded figures walking past a window creates a visceral response of dread and horror.

Charlie, in spite of the alleged language barrier, devises a complex plan to scare off the invaders and ultimately saves the lodge from being condemned.

David Linfield cleverly designed the set, Kevin Harris the lighting, and Jackie and Phil Edwards provided appropriate props and costumes. Maria Taylor is stage manager.

Contact freelance writer Lee Sutter at sutterlee@hotmail.com.

“The Foreigner”

7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 15

San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo

$15 to $30

786-2440, slolittletheatre.org

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