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Charm and Big Laughs in Covedale’s ‘The Foreigner’ Aren’t Lost in Translation

Review by Jack Crumley of The Foreigner: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

Rodger Pille, Lesley Hitch and Matthew Wilson in “The Foreigner”

The Covedale Center for Performing Arts’ fall production of The Foreigner has begun, and the opening night performance ended with an audience that was thoroughly laughed-out and giving a standing ovation. The Foreigner premiered at about this time of year in 1984 New York City. The show is unapologetically silly, but also maintains a very human element of wanting to make a connection with others. To feel a part of something. To feel at home.

The Foreigner tells the story of Charlie (played by Rodger Pille), a boring, British, science fiction editor who’s visiting a lodge in rural Georgia. He’s on the trip with his military friend, Froggy (played by Aaron Whitehead), as a way to forget the troubles with his sick (and very adulterous) wife back home. Charlie is terrified of interacting with people, however, and Froggy comes up with the idea of telling everyone at the lodge that Charlie is from a far off land and speaks no English as a way to get everyone to leave him alone. As you might imagine, hilarity ensues from there.

Audiences should be just a little bit patient with the show. It starts off somewhat slow with quite a bit of exposition. There’s a lot to set up and everything has a payoff, but you just have to get there. There were also some minor issues timing dialogue with a lightning/thunder sound effect in the opening scene that made it a little more difficult to get into the groove of the show.

The Foreigner is a funny show that benefits from presentational acting (as opposed to representational acting). There are times when cast members “know” that the audience is there (most notably in under-his-breath comments made by Froggy. Think Bugs Bunny holding up a sign with a screw and a ball.) But that presentational style is a little off-putting before the comedy really kicks in. Hearing about Charlie’s miserable life back home in the opening scene has no real sense of intimacy because it’s setting up for jokes down the road. It’s purposeful and it fits in with the show overall, but at the very beginning it can come off unpolished.

Rodger Pille’s performance as Charlie grows from a neurotic sad sack into a curious, fun-loving mute that eventually blossoms into a man who can only feel free when he’s NOT being himself. The relationship between Charlie and the simple-minded Ellard (strongly played by Matthew Wilson) is the highlight of the show. The first act breakfast scene between them is when the audience really starts yukking it up. Pille and Wilson have excellent timing between them, and I would imagine that their scenes will gel even more as they feed off each different audience during the show’s run.

It should be pointed out that Wilson’s performance as Ellard walks a fine line. His character is described as dim-witted and gentle, but not mentally handicapped per se. His sister, Catherine (played by Anne Schneider), is trying to see if Ellard is “smart enough” to handle getting his half of the family inheritance. Wilson’s smiling innocence and childlike movements really endear him to the audience and put a comedic spin on almost everything he says.

The cast performs on a very detailed and well-made set. Scenic Designer/Production Manager Brett Bowling’s stage has characters going into rooms upstairs and a trap-door basement. There’s a strong amount of set decoration that’s just there to add to the character of the show, and it does so without being distracting or busy.

The show “gets real” at the climax when members of the KKK show up, but even that confrontation stays in the vein of the light-hearted comedy that the audience has been enjoying throughout. Because it is the KKK, there are some sinister racial statements made, but nothing that’s blatantly racist. There is also some cursing in the show that didn’t seem to bother the opening night audience (which appeared to be all adults), but anyone considering bringing children should be aware of it.

Much like the character of Charlie, The Foreigner is a show that gradually casts off its hangups and has some real fun for a couple of hours, and it invites you to come along and do the same.

The Foreigner plays at the Covedale Theatre through November 13. Tickets are available at the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa