Edward Hanlon | Chicago Reader

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Re: “The Foreigner

“The Foreigner” by Larry Shue, one of the greatest stage comedies, is being performed by the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. It concerns Charlie, a shy, unhappily married Englishman who is brought by his friend Sgt. Froggy LeSeuer (a Cockney demolitions expert) to a Georgia fishing lodge for a rest. To keep the pathologically shy Charlie from having to talk to strangers, Froggy states that Charlie must be left alone because he is a foreigner with no knowledge of English. Since no one thinks Charlie can understand what is being said, he is soon hearing much more than anyone would want to hear about their private lives. Evil plans are taking place and the only person who can stop them is a diffident Brit speaking a sort of Sid Caesar double-talk.

In the book “Comic Support: Second Bananas in the Movies”, there is this quote about Lou Jacobi: “A big Jacobi fan when Lou played in ‘Don't Drink the Water’ on Broadway, Woody Allen recalled, ‘Lou got every laugh and twenty more from his body language.’” In this production, Craig Gustafson as Charlie may not hit the “twenty more” quota, but the number of laughs he gets from a properly timed head turn is sizable. Gustafson’s Charlie is lovable, hapless, blindingly funny and a world class seminar in comedic acting.

This is not the first show I have seen at the Metropolis. It is the first show I have seen there where the lead actor was cheered by the audience at curtain call.

Michael B. Woods as the redneck bigot Owen Musser is as masterful in his timing as Gustafson. Owen is stupid, contemptuous and dangerous. Woods sails blithely between Owen’s facets and is equally believable when Owen is a knife-wielding danger as he is when Owen is a goof with bad attitude. The highlight of the show is watching Woods and Gustafson in the “bees come down” scene.

Jes Bedwinek is terrific as Catherine, the shrew who has to tame herself in the space of one monologue, going from irritating to sympathetic. Her only misstep is in openly going for sympathy with her opening line, which then not only fails to establish her as a Tasmanian Devil from her first words, but truncates the laugh that comes with it. Catherine is not woebegone at that point, she’s furious. Otherwise, Bedwinek is an adept actress with a winning smile and stage smarts.

Eric Martin’s David is handsome, smart and shifty. Martin does a stellar job with a very difficult character, one who seems to be the nicest guy on Earth but is in fact the villain (that’s not really a spoiler. It is established early on). Martin’s only quirk is in not being able to play laughs – he screams his lines out during huge laughs, as if resenting the audience’s intrusion and telling them to shut up. In a production with this many laughs, that is a major flaw. Once that is corrected, Martin’s performance will be a highly memorable and effective one.

An audience favorite, Dominic Furry as the slow Ellard shows great lovability and sharp timing. Froggy, frequently a thankless, expository role, is played with great charm and energy by Dennis Brown. Mickey Crocker as Betty is almost funny, but the timing isn’t quite there. One of the easiest laughs to get in the script is Betty constantly shouting at Charlie. It is obvious that Crocker just doesn’t get why it’s funny.

David Belew’s direction is adroit, moving the action along quickly and hilariously. His work deserves more accolades than it will probably get because he does what a good director should do – he makes it look like the actors are coming up with everything themselves.

The laughs in this show are huge and constantly flowing. Less frequent but still present is spontaneous applause at moments that delight the audience. You couldn’t ask for a better night out at the theatre than to see “The Foreigner” at the Metropolis.

“The Foreigner” plays at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell Street, Arlington Heights, through February 21. Contact: 847-577-2121 or www.metropolisarts.com.

Posted by Edward Hanlon on 01/29/2009 at 8:09 AM

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