‘The Foreigner’ teaches us how to speak compassion
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
Pacific Theatre’s artistic director, Ron Reed, almost apologetically announced this season’s opening show as a “crazy, conventional, wonderful chestnut,” but I think everyone can agree that the choice couldn’t have been more pleasing. Larry Shue’s The Foreigner is heartwarming, hilarious, and no less an opportunity for the actors to show off their chops.
Charlie (John Voth), a self-appointed “boring” proofreader of science fiction novels, begins the play by confessing his deep social anxieties and “lack of personality.”
When sent to a rustic cabin in rural Georgia to escape the realities of his hospitalized wife in Britain, Charlie exclaims, “I just can’t talk to anyone now!”
Froggy (Ryan Scramstad), his friend and fellow Brit, conjures a helpful lie that forms the premise of the show: “He can’t speak a word of English.”
Charlie soon meets the owner of the house and the comedy erupts.
An ageing woman who has never left the country, Betty (Erla Faye Forsyth) cannot resist mothering her new guest: the foreigner with the exotic name “Cha-ooh-lee,” who reminds her of a pet skunk she had in her youth.
Since Charlie understands more than the other house guests think, he is exposed to a number of evil ploys spun by the antagonist, Reverend David (Mack Gordon). As Charlie is the only one in the know, we see him cleverly raising the unsuspecting victims into positions of power.
The “dim-witted” Ellard (Peter Carlone) is due half of his father’s inheritance, but only if his sister Catherine (Kaitlin Williams) deems him intelligent enough. Charlie makes it seem like Ellard has taught him to read in “about an hour,” which helps Ellard gain the respect of the others.
With no one to talk to, Charlie’s actions become all the more heroic as he single-handedly saves the day, and brings plenteous amounts of joy to the lives of those around him—and to his own.
Being so well-executed, it’s easy to forget how wrong this production could have gone with Ku Klux Klan members rushing onto the stage, Southern accents, and a grandma calling “Lord, Lord!” at every turn. But with all its charm and integrity, it’s no wonder that this play is a favourite.
This is largely indebted to the actors: Voth was captivating as Charlie. The character develops from a man only able to wonder what it must be like to “tell a funny story, to arouse laughter, anger, respect,” to a man absolutely enchanting us with his hand puppetry and terrifying casting of spells.
Under Evan Frayne’s fantastic direction, the actors are obviously in good hands. With a flawless set designed by Lauchlin Johnston, lighting by Matt Frankish, sound by James Coomber, and costumes by Sydney Cavanagh, we are transported into a world of atmosphere that arouses fear, warmth, laughter, and memories.
A perfect comedy enjoyable from the inside out, the Pacific Theatre once again takes us in from the storm to warm our hearts.