SAXTONS RIVER >> Light comedy is on the menu in Saxtons River starting on July 1, when Main Street Arts presents Larry Shue's "The Foreigner," a play that has been called "one of the funniest shows in American theater." Since its premier in the 1980's this award-winning comedy has grown into an audience favorite and a staple of regional theater companies across North America.
Putney's Dan Bennett plays the part of bluff, gruff British explosives expert, Froggy LeSeur. Froggy has been posted to a military base in Georgia, and he loves it. He's particularly fond of a run-down fishing camp nearby. He has decided it's just the place to drag his best friend, a nerdy introvert named Charlie Baker, played by Main Street Arts newcomer Albert Bupp. Poor Charlie doesn't really want to be there. He is too guilt-ridden about his family to enjoy himself. Charlie's horrified to learn that the camp will be populated with other people. Even ordinary conversation terrifies him, he says, let alone conversation with total strangers.
Froggy's solution for his friend is as brilliant as it demented. Why not tell Betty, the camp owner, that Charlie is a foreigner who understands not a word of English? What could possibly go wrong with that idea?
The answer is that nearly everything could, and does.
For LeSeur, duty calls him back to work at the base. He abandons the now-mute Charlie to the care of Betty (ably played by MSA veteran Libby McCawley) and a slightly crazed collection of people who assume he cannot understand a thing they say. Charlie quickly learns that Betty is desperate to sell this dumpy property before she goes bankrupt, that the local preacher is scheming with town officials to steal it from her, and that some of the neighbors haven't quite got over the Civil War, even after a century and a half.
Directed by David Stern, the cast includes a mix of newcomers and Main Street Arts regulars from across the region. In addition to Bupp, McCawley, and Bennett, MSA newcomer Fred Bennett plays the part of the unctuous Reverend Lee; Allie McGahie shines in the role of his naïve fiancé, Catherine Simms; Miles Cota plays the part of her inscrutable brother Ellis, and Mark Tullgren channels his inner villain as county official and Klansman Owen Musser, with an assist from Rick Cowan.
As is always the case with Stern-directed shows the set is another star of the show, perfectly capturing the shabby nature of the "resort" where the action takes place.
MSA Managing Director Margo Ghia said, "'The Foreigner' is our first summer show performed in the tradition of the old Saxton's River Playhouse. It's a cool, clever comedy made so much cooler by the fact that Main Street Arts Theater is (finally) air-conditioned!"
Director David Stern said that he was eager to bring the play to Main Street Arts. "'The Foreigner' is one of the funniest plays I have ever read. My goal was to have the audience and the cast all have a laugh together."
"The Foreigner" is designed to be a light evening's entertainment for a summer family audience, and it does that well. However, it is far from a mindless situation comedy. Amidst all the silliness the show examines how we respond to differences, whether the difference is racial, cognitive or linguistic, and what it really means to be a good listener.
The winner of two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards, The Los Angeles Times called "The Foreigner", "one of the few modern comedies that remains true to human nature despite its absurd excesses." That spirit remains intact in the version of the play shown on Main Street Arts's intimate stage.
"The Foreigner" will run Friday, July 1, Saturday,, July 2, Friday, July 8 and Saturday, July 9 at 7:30 p.m. In addition, there will be a pair of 2 p.m. matinees on July 3 and 9. Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door. 12 and under tickets are available for $10 (advance) and $12 at the door. The nearby Saxtons River Inn has a special "Meal and a Show" promotion for those who want to catch a dinner before the curtain opens. Call 802-869-2960 for more information, or go online at mainstreetarts.org.