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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Foreigner at ISF

There is nothing so rare as a well crafted comedy. Nowadays we are sated with cheep pieces, with improbable plots and grade school humor, the theatrical equivalent of a tv dinner, it’s there, you’ll eat it but it doesn’t satisfy you. How wonderful it is then to sit down to a four course feast, each dish, devise and joke lining up to dance upon our pallet, everything hot off the griddle and still crackling with smothered laughter. Such a feast is the Larry Shue’s Foreigner.

Set in the rural mountains of Georgia, the plot follows Charlie (Gordon Reinhart), a nervous and uninspired Englishman. Brought state side by his old army buddy Froggy (Dudley Swetland) to the isolated bed and breakfast of Betty Meeks (Lynn Alison) Charlie hopes to recuperate from a series of personal tragedies. In order to protect his timorous friend, Froggy informs Betty that Charlie is a foreigner who knows no English and who is to be left in perfect solitude. Instead, Betty and the other guests of the bed and breakfast set out to learn more about the mysterious foreigner, and Charlie, after overhearing a few things he shouldn't has no choice but to play along.

The play is a finely crafted comedy, not a single line or joke goes to waste but crops back up later. An director can play it as broadly or as nuanced as they like, and Sari Ketter has gone for a mixture of the two styles. She’s added some modern twists towards the end from the original text but the material still tastes as good as it did in 1983.

The ISF presentation of the feast starts off a little slow. Reinhart’s and Swetland’s opening dialog flags a bit. Granted Froggy is supposed to do all the talking but it runs close ‘your line, his line, your line, his line’ rather than a natural pace. Once the other lodgers are introduced the play snaps itself to attention and sets up a brisk cantor but it is not until Ellard (Steve Cadamone) the simple minded brother of heiress Catherine Simms (Georgina Stoyles) starts teaching Charlie English, and Charlie decides to play along that the laughs come pumping a mile a minute.

Reinhart starts off as quiet and bland as his character, doing his best to blend in with the boards, but by the second act you crane to see the small sly smile he puts on as his the foreigner begins to meddle in the affairs of others. He may have a blank slate for much of a conversation but those few little glimmerings of thought are worth a score of bug-eyed reactions. Cadamone too grows as Ellard comes into his own. At first just a straightforward bumbling man we see a wry spark flash as Ellard begins to stand up against his sister’s patronizing fiancé Reverend David Marshal Lee (Richard Klautsch). It’s a true joy to see the young man shrug out of the cocoon of doubt and disappointment wrapped about him and Cadamone handles his emergence with style.

Stoyles herself favors the broad stroke, as her Catherine bounces the rustic yet colorful set (designed by Nayna Ramey) like a well tailored pinball. Not that there is anything wrong with broad strokes, Stoyles captures and exaggerates the mannerisms of a Southern Belle that invites us to cackle as she herds her tears back into her eyes or coo as she casts a lighthouse bright smile on her new friend.

Klautsch plays Reverend David plays it cool reserve, the straight man to all the shenanigans but leaves most of the antagonism to Owen Musser (Justin Ness) a GO’B with designees upon the lodge. Returning to the Boise stage after a decades absence Ness wears Owen well, providing us the opportunity to laugh at the archetype who has caused us so much fear in Georgia, in Idaho, and indeed across the country.

But no matter how well Reinhart Smirks, or Stoyles Titters or Ness Galumphs, all must pay their homage to Alison’s Betty, who invests her character with such an easy and assured sense that her ludicrous conclusions, interplayed with her steely resolve in the face of loss, make us writhe at her feet, laughing. To hear here lecturing blithely on “brainwave” transfusion will cure even the deepest set sorrow of your day.

I shall not spoil how everything unfolds, but merely say that it is a finely tuned story and a well crafted comedy and within the first thirty minutes the company has made it their own. If Shue were alive today he would be well pleased. Since he isn’t I will be well pleased on his behalf.

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