Stranger in a hilariously strange land
by Michael Dresdner
|L to R: Blake York, Charlie Stevens All photos by Dennis K Photography|
On the opening night of their 100th year, Tacoma Little Theatre pulled out all the stops with an intensely funny and perfectly executed Larry Shue comedy called The Foreigner. It was so good that even this jaded, “seen it all before” reviewer was laughing out loud at the antics of director Cassie Pruitt’s wonderful ensemble cast.
Sadly, I can’t tell you much about the play’s plot because it would ruin a lot of the very unexpected humor, so I’ll do what everyone else does; just offer you the set-up and hope you will trust me enough to go see it mostly on my say so.
|L to R: Mikel Michener, Jen Aylsworth|
S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur (Mikel Michener) arrives at a Georgia hunting lodge to drop off his friend Charlie Baker (Blake York) for a few days while he goes on maneuvers. The ultra-shy Charlie is horrified at having to converse with strangers, so Froggy tells their host, Betty Meeks (Jen Aylsworth) that Charlie is a foreigner and speaks no English at all. She finds that thrillingly charming (why, honey child, she just never met no foreigner before) and quickly misinterprets every little action as stuff that’s plumb natural for foreigners, no matter how unlikely and absurd it is.
Rev. David Marshall Lee (Cody Wyld Flower) and his fiancé, Catherine Simms (Caiti Burke) both take that as a free pass to be able to speak freely about private matters both around him, and in Catherine’s case, to him. Lee wants to buy the old lodge with Catherine’s money and turn it into… See, there you have it. One of the those things I mentioned that I can’t give away lest I ruin the comedy.
|L to R: Jen Aylsworth, Cody Wyld Flower, Charlie Stevens, Brian Cox|
The rather duplicitous Reverend Lee is, we’ll soon find out, not quite so nice as he pretends to be when he shows up with a completely reprehensible stereotypical Southerner named Owen Musser (Brian Cox) in tow. There’s little reward in playing a truly bad guy. The better you play the role, the more everyone genuinely hates you, and Owen was outstanding at being despicable. From the moment Cox stepped on stage he crafted both a thoroughly obnoxious and a completely recognizable archetype.
|L to R: Charlie Stevens, Caiti Burke, Cody Wyld Flower|
Last, but certainly not least, is Ellard Simms (Charlie Stevens), Catherine’s mentally challenged brother. Gangly, a bit twitchy, and delightfully funny, Stevens made Ellard captivatingly believable. His breakfast scene with Blake during Act I was magnificent. Riddled with non-stop sight gags and almost no dialogue, the “slow” boy hilariously tries to communicate with this foreign tongued stranger, who plays along ad absurdum. It was both reminiscent of and better than the best work Laurel and Hardy ever did.
|L to R: Caiti Burke, Blake York, Jen Aylsworth|
The key to this play is Charlie Baker, and Blake York hit that role right out of the park. With his range of facial expressions, body language, and grab-bag of strange voices and actions, he created a character that you couldn’t take your eyes off of, and couldn’t stop laughing at.
Each of these performers would have been justifiably praised on their own, but Blake’s work as Charlie was so outstanding that he actually overshadowed much of this exceptional ensemble. How good was he? Normally I despise standing ovations because they’ve become so overused, but when Blake stepped out on stage for his bow, he got one that was richly deserved.
Not content simply to act, Blake York also designed the beautifully realistic set (abetted by the talented scenic artist and painter Jen York) but then we’ve known for some time that Blake has pretty much captured the “best set designer in the area” title already. Add that to his skill as a director and you have a very different sort of theatrical triple threat.
Jeffery Weaver did his usual top-notch job on props, set dressing, hair, and makeup. Ditto for Michele Graves’ costumes, Niclas Olson’s lighting design, and Chris Serface’s sound design. In other words, the technical side was well up to the challenge of this extraordinary cast.
Opening night was sold out. When word gets out about this triumph, every other night will be as well. Trust me; go see this one. It’s hard to imagine a more wonderfully hilarious evening.
Sept. 14 to 30, 2018
Tacoma Little Theatre