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Monday, Nov. 1, 2010

Problematic Locale Keeps ‘The Foreigner’ From Feeling at Home

Soulstice’s talented cast up against technical difficulties

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Under the direction of Soulstice Theatre’s artistic director, Char Manny, a talented cast launches the funny, screwball comedy The Foreigner. The show continues through Nov. 13 at the Marian Center for Nonprofits in St. Francis. It was written by the late playwright Larry Shue, a former actor at Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Although this comedy may be called “heartwarming,” it failed to warm the hearts (or bodies) of audiences during its opening performance. On a cold fall evening, temperatures inside the Marian Center Auditorium hovered in the 40s. The culprit was an old boiler that wasn’t scheduled to be turned on until the following month. The hard, wooden seats didn’t help matters, either. Staffers offered complimentary quilts and blankets to keep the audience warm during the show.

Temperatures aside, the theater itself is poorly suited to Soulstice Theatre’s work. The Foreigner is best enjoyed in a more intimate space. On Friday night, the 30 or so audience members were dwarfed by this ancient, 500-seat theater. The acoustics are terrible as well.

In better circumstances, this production would have been a pleasure to watch. Director Char Manny keeps the comic pacing on track as one scene blends seamlessly into the next. The play is set in a remote fishing lodge, a hangout for a military officer named Froggy (Randall Anderson). On this visit, he brings along Charlie, a shy chum who pretends not to know English so the other guests will leave him alone. Al Oldham plays Charlie to the hilt. Oldham’s reactions are priceless as Charlie learns more about the lodge’s other guests than he wishes to know. The play’s funniest scene is when a newly confident Charlie makes a fool out of the local redneck, Owen (Jason Thompson). Charlie pushes things so far that Owen’s hair-trigger temper threatens to erupt. Thankfully, the situation subsides in time for a happy ending.

The best news for audiences who plan to see the remaining performances of The Foreigner is that the heat is expected to be turned on.

The Foreigner continues through Nov. 13 at the Marian Center for Nonprofits, 3211 S. Lake Drive, St. Francis. For more information, call (414) 431-3187.