River Rep, the popular New York repertory theatre company, returns to Connecticut after a year-long hiatus with its 97th production, Larry Shue's delightful farce, "The Foreigner" at their new home this summer, the Chester Meeting House. This opening night Gala also included a fundraising event with a silent auction as well as plenty of champagne, wine, soda and food with the host of this event being Katherine Houghton, star of stage and screen and one of River Rep's leading ladies as well as being the niece of Katherine Hepburn. The show takes place in the early 1980's and is set in a fishing lodge in rural Georgia where Froggy LeSeuer, a British demolition expert occasionally runs training sessions at a nearby airbase. This time Froggy brings along a friend, Charlie Baker who is pathologically shy and is overcome with fear at the thought of making conversation with strangers. So Froggy tells Betty Meeks, the owner of the lodge that Charlie is from an exotic foreign country and speaks no English. However Charlie overhears more than he should about the evil plans of a sinister minister and his redneck associate as well as the fact that the minister's fiancee is pregnant. Charlie also learns many other damaging revelations made by the others with the thought that he doesn't understand anything being said. The fact that he does understand, he eventually helps the good guys overcome the evil Ku Klux Klan, thereby conquering them, overcoming his shyness and helping to change his and three other people's lives for the better, all at the same time. Jenn Thompson directs her seven talented performers perfectly in this madcap comic romp. The gorgeous fishing lodge set with a raked stage created by Tony Andrea, is so realistic one feels if they could move inside there for a three week vacation. The made up foreign language spoken by Charlie is hilarious to hear and watch as he tries to make the others understand what he is saying. The powerful performances by the River Rep troupe won the cast a standing ovation and thunderous applause at their triumphant return to the appreciative opening night audience in the beautiful and scenic Chester, CT. Bravo.
Jenn brings the comic moments out beautifully and gives each actor a chance to shine in their roles. Each role is a character role and she makes each of them different from the other. The British and southern accents are excellently executed by the cast and stage manager Rychard Curtiss keeps the scene changes moving along quickly, keeping the show's quick pace from start to finish. The sound design by Stephen Kunken, Jenn's real life husband who is currently appearing on Broadway in "Frost/Nixon", includes a rain storm and an explosion with the lighting design by Martin Vreeland and costumes by Jennie Cleaver. The cast is lead by Warren Kelley and his portrayal of Charlie Baker is splendid with his fantastic facial expressions and wonderful line deliveries in English and in his made up foreign language. (Blit is no and gock is yes.) Charlie who is a proof reader, feels boring and inadequate due to his wife's 23 affairs but his time in Georgia helps him to overcome his doubts and he becomes a hero, too. Warren's interactions with the other characters is perfect as he helps a dimwitted boy win his inheritance, brings adventure to an old lady stuck in this backwards town, helps a pregnant woman escape the clutches of her awful boyfriend and taunts her beau and his horrible redneck pal with his secret insults in his hidden tongue. Warren's acting out with his pantomime's and foreign language of the little red riding hood tale has to be seen and heard to be fully enjoyed because the audience understands what he is saying even though he is speaking gibberish. His dancing crazily and his ominous incantations to scare the hoodlums are topnotch, too. Bravo on a job well done.
Jenn's father, Evan, mother, Joan, and brother Owen appear in this show, too. Charlie's chum, Froggy is well played by veteran actor, Evan Thompson. He makes this bombastic, heavy drinking British soldier come to life. Evan shows his exasperation at trying to encourage Charlie to be more sociable and does a turn on a dime when he concocts the foreigner story to help bolster up Betty due to her problems at the lodge. Froggy can hardly believe that Charlie has fooled all the people with his shenanigans but supplies the needed turn of events to make Charlie and his three new friends very happy. Joan Shepard is very comical as Betty Meeks. She misconstrues almost everything Charlie says to her including that there is a tractor in his red riding hood story and that he wants her to play her harmonica for him. When Betty shouts at Charlie as if he is deaf is hilarious, too. Tara Falk plays Catherine Simms, a former debutante whose father has left her a huge inheritance. She is bitchy and unhappy during the first act due to her being pregnant but mellows out in the second act due to Charlie's sympathetic and understanding nature and becomes enamored of him. Her dimwitted brother, Ellard is played by Trip Langley who graduated this May from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Ellard turns out to be smarter than anyone thinks. His eating and teaching scenes with Warren are hysterical as he teaches Charlie how to eat eggs while putting a glass on his head and how to identify objects in the lodge by their southern English definitions.
Todd Gearhart who has matinee idol good looks, gets a chance to portray a cad in David who is a minister. However things seem too good to be true and as Charlie witnesses the exchange between David and Owen, he discovers their true motives towards Betty, Ellard and Catherine. Todd's acting is wonderful as this smarmy character and the audience enjoys it when David gets his comeuppance after his miserable behavior. Last but not least is Owen Thompson who plays Owen who is one of the nastiest villains in this show as he takes advantage of an old lady and tries to kill Charlie because he is a foreigner. He spouts awful, racist dialogue at Charlie and the others but the comic moments help to temper it as he gets the crap scared out of him and the Ku Klux Klan. A huge boo and hiss to Todd and Owen for being horrible villains but excelling in their roles while so. Hopefully this is the restarting of River Rep's summer theatre. Their plans for the summer of 2008 are in the works and they hope to relocate to the new Katherine Hepburn Theatre in Old Saybrook, CT. So for a fabulous treat and a topnotch farce by 20 year favorite River Rep, be sure to catch "The Foreigner". Tell them Tony sent you.