In a world currently dominated by political mudslinging and an unstable economy, it’s nice to know that it’s still possible to laugh.
This year’s “Brave New World” season at Forest Roberts Theatre is kicking off with Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner,” a comedy about human connection.
“I’ve always liked this play,” said Paul Truckey, NMU theatre professor and director of the play. “And it’s a comedy, so it’s good to start the season with something light.”
It begins with Charlie Baker (Brian Elliot), a shy, socially awkward Englishman who goes on vacation in rural Georgia, with his friend, Froggy LeSueur (Jerry Tudor). LeSeuer leaves him for three days in a boarding house run by Betty Meeks (Ashley Stein), a sweet and somewhat na’ve old woman. However, because of his social awkwardness, Baker declares that he doesn’t want to talk to anyone while he is there, so LeSueur tells Meeks that Baker is a foreigner and cannot speak any English and that everyone should simply leave him alone.
It is this seemingly innocent lie that sets up the framework for a hilarious play.
As the play goes on, each character figures out his or her own way to “communicate” with Baker. Meeks, the overly nice older lady, always screams at Baker whenever she says something to him, as though it’s the volume of her voice and not the words she uses that will make Baker understand her.
“(Meeks) is really sweet,” Stein, a junior theatre major, said. “It’s fun to play a character who doesn’t try to be funny but just comes off that way.”
Since everyone in the play, with the exception of LeSueur, thinks that Baker can’t speak English, they say whatever they want to in front of him, because they assume he can’t understand them. This works to Baker’s advantage — no one seems to care about spilling their scandalous secrets in front of him, and he becomes privy to all the characters’ dirty laundry.
As the play progresses, Baker becomes enmeshed deeper and deeper inside of LeSueur’s lie, and in doing so, he redefines who he is. And as he is discovering what, exactly, he is capable of, he helps those around him discover the same about themselves.
“(Baker) starts out stayed and boring, and he comes out of his shell at the end,” Elliot, a senior theatre major, said, adding that he was excited to play Baker not only because he’s an interesting character, but because it’s something of a family tradition. “When I was eight or nine, my dad played the role I’m playing,”
After the first few scenes, it becomes clear who the antagonists of the play are: Rev. David Lee (Ben Filipowicz) and Owen Musser (Mike Rudden). The two are scheming to take ownership of the boarding house, for reasons that are less than exemplary.
For Filipowicz, a junior elementary education major, the role as the token “bad guy” is something he’s not used to.
“I’ve been type-casted as the innocent one,” he said. “I love my character. I don’t usually get to play a character like this, someone outside the norm.”
After the first act finishes, all the characters are tangled in a web of deceit that no one seems able to break free from. The only people who aren’t caught up in a lie are Meeks and Ellard Simms (Nick Hurton), a cognitively impaired young man. And when the intermission comes, you may be wondering how each character will fare, but the ending brings the play to a satisfying close.
In a play with only eight characters, there is never a boring moment, and Baker, along with the rest of the cast, will surely garner lots of laughs over the two and a half hour runtime.
“This play is hilarious,” said Filipowicz. “It’s hard to find a really good comedy. There’s for-the-hell-of-it funny and there’s funny with a purpose; this play is funny with a purpose.”
And while the cast provides plenty of laughs, one feature of this play that will be hard to miss is the elaborate set.
Steve McClain, a senior theatre major, started working on the set during the second week of the semester, and, with some help, finished it just days before opening night.
The set is a classic log home, complete with a stone fireplace and animal heads and fish on the walls. The entire stage is transformed into the main room of the boarding house, with beautifully finished wood used for the walls, the staircase and the doors.
McClain said he spent 20 hours a week putting the set together, along with eight to 10 other workers who put in between 10-15 hours a week.
“On the weekends, I was [working on the set] from noon until 10:30 (p.m.),” he said.
With an amazing set and a great cast, the play isn’t only fun for the audience but for the actors as well.
“Everybody is really talented. It’s a tight-knit cast,” Stein said. “This is a show, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like theatre – it’s fun for everyone.”
“The Foreigner” runs through Oct. 4. All shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. with a 1 p.m. matinee showing on Saturday in addition to the regular evening show. Tickets are $11 for the general public and $7 for NMU students and are sold at EZ Ticket outlets on campus.