All Posts Tagged Tag: ‘East Bay’
What do you get when you drop a British military explosives expert and his painfully shy and trod upon sci-fi editor friend into a rural Georgia fishing lodge operated by a matronly, widowed manager and occupied by a smarmy southern preacher, his expecting fiancée and her somewhat dim-witted brother with an occasional visit by a good ol’ boy building inspector? A pretty funny show, that’s what.
That’s Larry Shue’s The Foreigner in a nutshell. Shue’s farce has been a regional and community theatre staple since it premiered in 1984 and the Bay Area has seen its share of productions. Previous incarnations have been produced from Salinas to San Mateo, from San Jose Rep to Piedmont High School. That Georgia fishing lodge now occupies the stage of the Contra Costa Civic Theatre in El Cerrito, where director Ken Sonkin has gathered a game cast of Bay Area theatre veterans (and CCCT newcomers) to bring a lodge-ful of laughs to the East Bay.
British Staff Sergeant “Froggy” LeSeur (Mike Reynolds) is a regular visitor to Betty Meek’s Fishing Lodge Resort, located near a U.S. Military base in Tilghman County, Georgia. On his latest trip he brings along Charlie Baker (Ryan O’Donnell), a good friend who needs to get away from the harsh realities of a consistently unfaithful wife and a life quite boring. Seeking to protect his friend from the inquisitive ways of the locals, Froggy informs Betty (Linda Paplow) that Charlie is a foreigner and neither speaks nor understands a word of English. Charlie is at first hesitant about the arrangement but soon finds himself a fly-on-the-wall to the goings on around him.
There’s the Reverend David Marshall Lee (Dan Saski) who seems to be a little too devout, except when it comes to knocking up his fiancée Catherine (Monica Ammerman) who just happens to have inherited a large sum of money. Her brother Ellard (Aaron Murphy) would be entitled to half of that money, but he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed so it’s up to Catherine to determine if he should receive it. Betty’s all worried about the future of the lodge as Owen Musser (Chad Yarish), the new inspector in town, just might condemn the place and force it to be sold for a song. As everyone thinks Charlie doesn’t understand a word that’s being said around him, all sorts of secrets and devious plots are revealed in his presence, leaving Charlie to ponder just how involved he wants to become. Life becomes infinitely more interesting to him as his foreigner is taken in under the wings of the more genteel residents and becomes a thorn in the side of those who have nefarious plans.
Amongst all this nefariousness is hilariousness, with large quantities of humor of the verbal and physical kind. The verbal humor comes courtesy of the attempts to overcome the “language barrier” as Ellard attempts to teach English to Charlie and as Charlie attempts to communicate via his undetermined language. His seemingly innocent but decidedly determined skewering of Owen is made doubly funny by Yarish’s slow burn. There are also several wonderful physical bits of comedy, usually between O’Donnell and Murphy’s characters, including an extended bit which is an homage to (or theft of) the classic Groucho/Harpo Marx mirror routine from Duck Soup (which had been previously swiped / ’recreated’ by Lucille Ball with Harpo Marx in a famous “I Love Lucy” episode.)
Nothing seems more forced or artificial on stage than overplayed farce, something that Sonkin’s entire cast successfully avoided. Their characters, though often exaggerated, managed to stay just this side of cartoonish. Mike Reynolds does a good job with ‘Froggy’, setting up the premise and swooping in at the end to save the day. O’Donnell, Paplow, Ammerman, and Murphy managed to infuse their characters with a sweetness that tempered some of the harsher elements introduced in the play’s climax. Charlie’s growth from wallflower to protector and his growing relationship with Catherine, Betty and Ellard is the key to this show’s success. The actors’ quickly get the audience on their side and anxious for the villains’ comeuppance.
Dan Saski is sufficiently slimy as the two-faced reverend who proclaims piety but whose ulterior motives are laid bare by the play’s conclusion. Chad Yarish does a good job balancing buffoonish-ness with menace and was cheerfully booed by last Saturday evening’s audience.
All the action takes place on a nicely detailed, multilevel set by Robert “Bo” Golden that apparently uses every available inch of space on the CCCT stage. Lighting and sound design (by Hamilton Guillén and Michael Kelly) added several important elements to the on-stage action and atmosphere.
Easily the funniest show I’ve seen in a while (though it does take a while to get going,) Contra Costa Civic Theatre’s The Foreigner is a perfect choice for a theatergoer just looking to laugh.
Presented by Contra Costa Civic Theatre
through April 26
Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @2pm
Contra Costa Civic Theatre
951 Pomona Ave
El Cerrito, CA 94530
Photos by Ben Krantz