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Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014

'The Foreigner' comes home to Milwaukee

On Love and Language Barriers

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Thirty-one years ago, Larry Shue’s comedy The Foreigner premiered in Milwaukee before achieving national acclaim off Broadway and regionally. Its most recent Brew City reprise takes place on Theatre Unchained’s intimate stage. John Baiocchi directs and Artistic Director James Dragolovich stars as Charlie, the traveling English cuckold with the amusingly mistaken notion that pretending not to speak English will make for an uneventful stay in a Georgia fishing lodge.

The production feels under-rehearsed in terms of line recall and dialects, but is nonetheless a lot of laughs in a heartwarming package. The forays into slapstick are especially successful. Dragolovich’s facial expressions are hilarious when Charlie hides on a small couch, inadvertently overhearing a serious discussion between the engaged couple, David (Jon Weisse) and Catherine (Liz Leighton). The scenes in which Ellard (A.J. Stibbe) “teaches” English words to Charlie in a thick Southern drawl are similarly gut busting.

Shue’s message that sometimes it takes a fictitious persona to bring out the best in everybody comes across clearly as well. Stibbe’s charmingly obtuse Ellard finally gets to be seen as something more than a dense country bumpkin through his lessons with Charlie, and Leighton’s brilliantly high-strung Catherine gets the confidant she’s always wanted by confessing her secrets to the enamored, supposedly uncomprehending foreigner. Moreover, the bad guys trying to take over the lodge for sinister purposes get a serious run for their money from the strange man whose meaningless “voodoo talk” packs more of a punch than they bargain for.

The Foreigner runs through March 2 at Theatre Unchained, 1024 S. Fifth St.

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