The Shue Fits at the Marian Center
Soulstice Theatre Brings Larry Shue Comedy to the Stage
The events of the last 12,000 years or so notwithstanding, people continue to misunderstand each other. One would think that 12,000 years would’ve been more than enough time to work out all the kinks in basic communication. Things keep getting in the way of real communication—and in a world of increasing distraction there is hope in the form of new social media that allow people from many different backgrounds in diverse geographical locations to . . . misunderstand each other in ways previously thought to be impossible. And so the problem remains . .
In the relatively recent past, a particularly clever comic mind had written a play on the topic of human communication. Larry Shue, who also wrote The Nerd and the rarely produced piece of genius Grandma Duck Is Dead. Shue’s The Foreigner debuted in Milwaukee in the early ‘80’s. This month, Soulstice Theatre presents a production of the comedy at the Marian Center.
Al Oldham stars as Charlie Baker—a British gentleman who finds himself in a tiny town in Georgia in the not too distant past. He’s accompanying his friend—a British military man named Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur (Randall T. Anderson) on an annual trip to Georgia. They will be staying in a fishing lodge run by Betty Meeks (Sharon Nieman-Koebert.) Early-on, Baker tells Froggy that he’d rather not be bothered by others—he just wants to be left alone as he is in a particularly rough mental condition. In an effort to give Charlie his piacy, Froggy tells Betty that Charlie doesn’t speak a word of English. Far from deterring Betty, Charlie’s allegedly foreign background fascinates her and many of the rest of the people at the lodge, causing Charlie to come out of his shell and pretend to be foreign just to make them happy.
Roughly six years ago, the Rep did a production of the comedy with Lee Ernst as Baker. Erst was very . . . Ernst-like in the role. He has remarkable comic instincts, which served the play well, but it’s refreshing to see Oldham take-up the same character. A shy man who is allowed to open-up to people and become interesting to them—Charlie is a likeable character any audience can sympathize with. Far from having any kind of showiness in the role, Oldham is that much more sympathetic as we see him slowly open-up to people in trouble under remarkable circumstances that limit his ability to communicate with others.
Randall T. Anderson has a proven track record for being good in just about everything. Froggy isn’t onstage often, but he holds-up his end of the comedy quite well. Sharon Nieman-Koebert has a pleasant charm about her in the role of a woman who thinks she has some kind of psychic connection with a man who doesn’t speak English. Thee four others in the cast include Aaron Shricker as a Reverend looking to marry a former debutante named Catherine (Abby Armstrong.) Armstrong carries an emotional warmth that plays well against the slightly cold nature of Shricker as the Reverend. Jason Thompson is positively frightening as the stereotypical face of bigoted, ignorant South. The stereotype comes across with some minor degree of depth in the script—a depth Thompson is able to elaborate on with an aggressive force. Joseph Krapf rounds out the cast as an intellectually slow Ellard Simms. Krapf is endearing in the role. His turn around as “English teacher,” for Charlie makes for some incredibly charming moments on stage.
Soulstice Theatre’s production of The Foreigner runs through November 13th at the Marian Center for Non-Profits’ Auditorium Theatre. A more concise and altogether more coherent review of the show runs in this week's Shepherd-Express