The Foreigner | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Foreigner

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The Foreigner, Village Players Theater. The premise of Larry Shue's comedy is that if you pretend you don't speak any English, you'll be spared unwelcome conversation and people will spout out their secrets thinking you can't understand a word. Charlie Baker (Torrence W. Murphy) plays this game with inhabitants of a rural Georgia inn and learns of a sinister Ku Klux Klan plot, an untimely pregnancy, and other surreptitious doings. In most productions, the story unfolds into raucous slapstick, but director John Biser has chosen to make Charlie--normally a white Brit--an African-American posing as an African native, giving Shue's comic script a new racial tension.

It's an intriguing departure, creating comic highs and dramatic lows that Biser and his cast rarely exploit. They speed through scenes at the same frenzied pace, fast-forwarding through such terrific comic bits as young Ellard (Fred Lusch) giving Charlie an English lesson ("lamp," for example, "ends in 'ump.' Lay-ump"). Dramatic moments suffer too. The Klan's supposedly climactic entrance involves only a quick blaze of lights, a unanimous war cry, and a single-file procession of people in sheets looking like Charlie Brown after he's rejected by the Great Pumpkin. A few--like Lusch and Jared Lonergan as the hateful, half-witted head Klansman--maximize every word and pause. The others need to take a tip from their southern characters and slow down, relax, and enjoy their mint juleps. That way everyone will have more fun.

--Kim Wilson

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