Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” is no stranger (no pun intended) to community theater stages. It has always been a fairly straightforward piece – but the current political climate has made artists take a look at work through fresh eyes. Home Made Theater’s production, directed by Patrick White and running through May 7, plays up the xenophobia running rampant in today’s society, making the production much richer than other versions I’ve seen.
Charlie Baker (Nick Casey) is the foreigner in question: a cataclysmically shy Brit taking a break from his doomed marriage at a hunting lodge in Georgia. He despairs in having to speak to anyone there; his friend Froggy (Dennis Skiba) who set up the stay, lets on to Betty Meeks (Debra Bercier), the proprietor, that Charlie speaks and understands no English and therefore no one should speak to him, as it would embarrass him – then leaves, promising to return once Charlie’s visit is over. Charlie’s inability to “understand” the residents of the lodge has quite the opposite effect as intended, however – he becomes a novelty, confidant, friend or threat to the various people he encounters.
Casey’s Charlie starts slow and builds. The voice he chose to use as Charlie – strangely high-pitched, possibly to show nervousness – was off-putting, but once he could no longer speak Charlie’s British English, this was no longer an issue. Otherwise, he was a delight – his broad physicality had the audience in stitches. Nicole Mecca, as Catherine Simms, an ex-debutante staying in the lodge, played the character very harshly; it was hard to see how she would charm Charlie as her softer side never really kicked in. Josh Tracy, as Catherine’s brother Ellard, was the heart of the production; everyone was charmed by his character (and his perfect musical choice at the end of the show.)
Dale Conklin’s set was glorious, as his work always is; as Conklin has moved out of the area, White was truly lucky he visited to give us a taste of his mastery once again. Sadly, sound problems did plague the evening; I’ve seen the show a number of times, so knew what was coming, but the friend I saw the show with hadn’t and was unable to hear (or understand) a few of the major plot points.
White’s direction, however, is the standout here. It would be very easy to take this over 30-year-old show and do it the way it’s always been done. However, to tie it in seamlessly with what’s going on in the world today without beating us over the head with it – that’s the magic White imbues. The reaction each character shows when told Charlie is a foreigner – excitement, terror, disgust – could be seen on anyone’s face you meet today when introduced to someone from the dreaded “elsewhere.” White has taken something old and made it new again, in a way that will make you think – this is something that doesn’t happen often in theater, and I’m so pleased when I get the honor of experiencing it.
“The Foreigner”, Home Made Theater, 19 Roosevelt Drive, Saratoga Springs, through May 7, $27-$24, Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission, (518) 587-5527, http://www.homemadetheater.org