Covedale‘s ‘The Foreigner’ Breaks Down Walls with Good Natured Humor
Posted On June 23, 2017
Review by Doug Iden of The Foreigner: Covedale Theater
Don’t be a stranger to The Foreigner which is now running at the Covedale Theater. This very funny play is a combination of an American and British farce with a labyrinthine plot, mistaken identities, misunderstandings, hidden agendas, slamming doors, secret nooks, language barriers and mass confusion. Even though the play may seem alien at first, you will be rewarded in the end.
Written by American Larry Shue, The Foreigner tells the story of an extremely shy, self-effacing Brit (Charlie Baker played by Rodger Pille) who accompanies his friend Froggy (Aaron Whitehead) to rural Georgia for an annual military training session which he teaches. Charlie, married to a beautiful and very adulterous woman, is debilitated by having to socialize with anybody, especially strangers. To avoid confrontations and the appearance of rudeness, the two men conjure up a ploy to convince the others that Charlie does not speak English. Charlie is then introduced to Betty Meeks (Leslie Hitch), who runs the rustic fishing lodge where they are all staying, the Rev. David Lee (Daniel Cooley), Lee’s fiancé Catherine Simms (Annie Schneider), and her apparently dim-witted brother, Ellard Sims, played by Matthew Wilson. Because of an almost stereotypical betrayal of Southern rubes, the other characters talk very freely about their activities and peccadillos in front of Charlie because they assume he cannot understand what they are saying. They try to communicate with Charlie by yelling loudly (in English) but the young Brit remains apparently oblivious. Many of these discussions lead to the convoluted goings-on later in the play.
However, this play, with all of its inherent silliness, has some serious undertones which elevates it beyond a standard farce. There is a scathingly funny condemnation of xenophobia and racism as a major plot point and, as important, it depicts the characters achieving a level of self-awareness and achievement that none of them would have imagined at the start. They begin as absurd caricatures but finish as individuals with real lives and real futures. This is a credit to the playwright, the actors and the director Jody Meyn.
This is largely an ensemble piece but all of the action swirls around Charlie Baker and it is his performance that makes the play work. This is a difficult role because, for almost half of the play, Charlie is mute and must rely on facial expressions, blank stares and an extraordinary ability to mime to convey his feelings and thoughts. Rodger Pille does an excellent job of, initially, conveying a sincere goofiness at the center of the comic maelstrom but, eventually, developing a unique, likeable personality and self-actualization to which the others respond favorably. Leslie Hitch (as lodge owner Betty Meeks) does a good comic turn and Matthew Wilson, as Ellard, convincingly transforms from a kind-hearted but largely ignored dullard into a man smarter than he thinks he is. In one very funny (and difficult to act) scene, Charlie and Ellard mime and mimic each other during the simple task of eating breakfast. The two characters help each other develop their real strengths.
Aaron Whitehead, as Froggy, conveys a convincing British accent, acting as the sarcastic Greek Chorus, while Daniel Cooley subtly shows his hidden and dangerous agenda. Kyle Quinlivan is rapidly developing into a very talented addition to the Cincinnati theater scene. I have now seen him in a variety of performances including a likable college student in the musical Baby, Jesus in Godspell and now a racist radical in this play.
Technically, the scenery and lighting enhances the mood of the play. The set design by Brett Bowling is very detailed and evokes a rural, rustic fishing lodge beautifully. The set includes myriad stuffed fish, antlers, a spoon collection (from a first act joke) and a warning sign about Bigfoot which the locals probable believe in. The lighting is effective as well during a storm, an onslaught in the second act and some legerdemain while defending the lodge.
I overheard several people in the audience on opening night comment that they were unsure about the play initially but were very glad they went. So, grab your funny bone and see The Foreigner at the Covedale running through November 13. Tickets are available at the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa