The Concord Journal
'Foreigner' grapples with modern woes
By Ellen Denison  

Staff Correspondent

As the snow swirled without, all was laughter and high drama within. The Concord Players' production of Larry Shue's play, "The Foreigner" kept winter at bay for a few hours on Saturday evening with stellar individual performances, clever comedy, and a nimbly-crafted story that unwound, appealingly, a thread at a time.

Under the effective and colorful direction of Patricia Butcher, the cast of 10 revealed an intricate modern tale that concealed dark and almost sinister possibilities beneath a hilarious exterior.

It is the story of a woebegone British visitor to a rural southern fishing lodge who, craving escape and solitude, opts to turn himself into a foreigner of vague background to avoid the scrutiny, questioning, and conversation of others at the resort.

What results is nothing short of miracles and milestones as Charlie, the foreigner, is swept headlong into the complex lives of those around him.

Comfortable in his pretense of not speaking or understanding the language, Charlie is nonetheless pulled, unwillingly at first, into a drama of family ties, greed, and sentimentality that only escalates as he overhears more and more spoken by people who believe he is ignorant of what they are discussing.

There is lodge owner Betty Meeks, aging and unable to keep things going alone but afraid of what will ultimately happen to the place that has been her life and home. And there is simple-minded, sweet-natured Ellard, whose future will be determined by his hard-edged sister, Catherine, whose own future is unsure and whose misery is thinly concealed beneath a simmering contempt for all but her debutante days.

To set this story firmly in its place and time, the requisite benevolent preacher - also Catherine's fiancee - and the opinionated hill-country native contribute monumentally to the play's moral labyrinth.

Based on what he hears, we wonder, how can Charlie do the right thing without revealing or endangering himself? This becomes the play's core. Although grounded in almost Shakespearean devices of quick, obvious humor and altered identity, "The Foreigner" grapples beautifully and succinctly with an array of very modern woes. The resolution to which Charlie and company come is startling, funny, and worth sifting through the confusion.

From the rustic mountain cabin setting to the at-times eerily realistic costuming and sound works, the Concord Players production puts forth a wealth of energy. The cast is hugely talented,. Louise Hannegan as the lodge owner is properly sympathy-provoking, yet becomes one of the story's greatest comic centers; in her attempt to make herself understood to the accommodating and lovable Charlie, she speaks progressively louder and louder, soon convinced that she in fact understands his own mysterious tongue. Hannegan plays this simple interpretation to its hilt, making us feel greatly sad for her, despite her character's constant comic deliveries.

Comprising the balance of the household are John Murtagh as Ellard Simms, Katie Fowle as Catherine Simms, Concord native Rusty Barber as the ill-intentioned Reverend Lee, Joseph Zamparelli Jr., as the frightening white supremacist Georgian Owen Musser, and Terry Coe as Charlie's friend, accomplice and countryman Froggy LeSueur.

Murtagh's Ellard is warming, causing an audience poised for comedy to take pause and think seriously about general notions of intelligence and human capability.

Rik Pierce's Charlie is the jewel of this production. He progresses from a timid, properly abashed European gentleman to an adventurous, caring guy who can't manage to leave good folks alone to work out their troubles.