Review: The Foreigner by Pacific Theatre
Larry Shue’s The Foreigner is a madcap, hilarious, and thoroughly heartwarming evening of entertainment. Featuring the most ludicrous of premises and characters bordering on cartoons, the piece could easily play out as a run-of-the-mill farce. An underlying tenderness and off-kilter wit elevate the work however, transforming it into a deeply memorable experience.
The play begins by introducing us to Charlie, a socially anxious Brit whose friend Froggy has brought him to a rural lodge in the Southern US to take his mind off an ailing wife. When Charlie experiences a panic attack at the thought of having to converse with strangers, Froggy fixes the situation by telling the elderly hostess that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks not one word of English.
Thinking themselves secure, lodge residents and town locals soon find themselves divulging all manner of secrets within earshot of Charlie and, when a dark scheme arsises within the group, he finds himself uniquely positioned to take action.
The narrative is brought to life by an exceptional cast and driven at a crackling pace by director Evan Frayne. The company function as an incredible, cohesive unit, careening through the play’s antics with expert timing and boundless energy.
Particularly joyful performances are given by Erla Faye Forsyth as the aging property owner who discovers new joie de vivre in her exotic foreign tennant and in Peter Carlone’s not-quite-there Ellard. Not only did Carlone earn some of the night’s biggest laughs with his deadpan deliveries and utter conviction, he also brought dignity and nuance to a role that too easily could have been a painful simplification (think the younger brother Warren from There’s Something About Mary).
As our protoganist Charlie, John Voth gives a command turn. From his initial appearance as a mannered, stumbling recluse, he slowly teases out a transformation that is spectacular to behold. By the time we arrive at the (truly quite mad) climax, he is a different man and our hearts are a little lighter for having been taken along on the journey.
A mention must also be made for Lauchlin Johnston’s set, as it is surely one of the most beautiful and inviting to have been built into Pacific Theatre’s unique space (which, as regular readers will know, has a divided audience sit on either side of the stage). The centre aisle has been completely transformed into a rustic cabin, complete with hardwood floors, stone hearth, crackling fireplace, and staircase leading up to the second floor. The latter is a particular feat, as the ceiling of the theatre can not be more than 15′.
Ultimately, The Foreigner is not the kind of play that is going to challenge one’s world view or provide a platform for deep personal introspection. Its primary offerings are laughter and antics, but having softened one’s heart through these first two, it sneaks up on the viewer with a poignant message of friendship, kindness, and the incredible gifts that follow when we welcome others into our lives.