Theatre Review: “The Foreigner” at Beef and Boards

Daniel Scharbrough (L) and Jeff Stockberger (R) in "The Foreigner" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry.

Last Thursday night I braved the snow and cold to drive to the professional Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis to see “The Foreigner,” by Larry Shue.  Eddie Curry directed it.

At first this comedy feels like a drama, and later, when the Ku Klux Klan appears, it is chilling.  However, ultimately it is a mystery story that is a lot of fun.  Everyone in the cast has good comic timing, and many parts of the show are deep-down-belly-laugh funny.

It takes place in a fishing lodge in rural Georgia run by an affable widow, Betty Meeks (Kate Braun.)  She is friends with a jovial English demolitions expert, Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur (Ty Stover), who visits Georgia periodically to train American forces.  On this particular trip, he brings along a friend from England, Charlie Baker (Jeff Stockberger), who is depressed because his wife has been cheating on him.  Froggy hopes that some rest and relaxation at Betty’s lodge while Froggy is off working will cheer Charlie up.

Jeff Stockberger in "The Foreigner" at Beef and Boards - photo by Julie Curry.

However, Charlie’s self-confidence is so low that the thought of socializing with the other guests at the lodge – or with anyone – is paralyzing.  He begs Froggy to “do something” so that he doesn’t have to.  On the spur of the moment, Froggy tells Betty that Charlie doesn’t understand English and therefore wants to be left alone.

Betty hears the first part, but not the second.  She takes Charlie the “foreigner” under her wing and tries to communicate with him.  This is when the story changes from drama to comedy.  “He don’t understand no English even if it’s spoke real loud,” Betty explains to another lodge guest…and we’re off.

LtoR - Ty Stover, Jeff Stockberger, Kate Braun in "The Foreigner" - photo by Julie Curry

Meanwhile, also staying at the lodge are the seemingly fine-and-upstanding Rev. David Marshall Lee (David Schmittou) and his fiancée, the former debutante Catherine Simms (Sarah Hund.)  Catherine’s sweet but mentally challenged younger brother, Ellard Simms (David Purdy), earnestly tries to teach the foreigner English, including the pronunciation of words such as “fork,” which has, in this part of the country, two syllables.  Oafish local sheriff-wannabe Owen Musser (Daniel Scharbrough) taunts the foreigner for “fun.” 

Because they all think that Charlie can’t understand a word they’re saying, they speak their secrets in front of him.  He begins to forget his own troubles by helping the good guys prevail over the bad guys from under cover of his foreigner role.

The Actors and the Music

I think that a lot of B&B regulars feel, as I do, that if a show has Jeff Stockberger in it, it is worth seeing simply because of that.  He is definitely a pleasure to watch in this piece, especially because so much of the humor is non-verbal, but also because we get to see Charlie blossom from a reserved, depressed, fearful man into a still English but more relaxed and happier man.  Jeff has some crowd-pleasing, whack-a-doodle bits in this show as always, but unlike some other roles I’ve seen him play at B&B, it isn’t pratfall after pratfall.  It is refreshing and interesting to see more of his acting range, and to enjoy his mastery of the subtle.  Every movement, every facial expression is purposeful.

However, what struck me as I watched the show Thursday night was how strong everyone is in this cast.  Yes, yes, Jeff is the star, but everyone here is a treat, from their (as I mentioned earlier) comic timing to their characters’ accents to their personalities to the way they move to the way they interact with the other characters.

LtR - David Purdy, David Schmittou, Jeff Stockberger, Sarah Hund in "The Foreigner" - photo by Julie Curry

I knew that I had seen and very much enjoyed Ty Stover’s, Sarah Hund’s, and Daniel Scharbrough’s work before.  When I read my program and searched my blog, I realized that I had enjoyed David Purdy’s work before, too, but in those other shows he was one of several brothers – either looking for a bride or looking for Joseph.  In “Foreigner” he gets to shine as a cutie all on his own.

During the intermission, director Eddie Curry came by my table to say hello. I raved about Kate Braun and he told me that I had seen her work before, too, in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of “Our Town” that he and she were in three or four years ago. (That was before I started this blog, but I did love that show.)

Eddie also told me that Jeff Keel, the “music selector” for “The Foreigner,” had been involved with “Our Town,” too, and had, at the end of the run, provided everyone with a souvenir CD of music that represented beloved plot points or other features of the show.  Eddie told me that he had been so impressed with that CD that he asked Jeff to select the pre-show and scene change music for this show.  He wanted the selections to have “a Georgia country feel but not be too twangy.” 

I agree with Eddie that Jeff’s selections are just right.  They begin approximately 30 minutes before the show itself begins, and right as the house lights go down, we hear a snippet from a hilarious song whose refrain is “I won’t talk.”

Earlier, while I was eating dinner, it had felt a little odd not to see the B&B orchestra setting up in their loft.  There is no live music for this show, but the recorded music throughout the evening is perfectly selected to enhance the entire experience.  Sound designer Daniel Hesselbrock elegantly manages the delivery of the sound, too, as usual.

The Other Design Elements

Michael Layton designed and lit the rustic but richly-detailed set.  I especially loved the antler chandelier and the cozy steps leading up and around to the second floor.  The lighting during the “KKK visit” scene is especially evocative.

If you enjoy “Where’s Waldo/Find the Difference” type adventures, and if you decide to go see this show, I urge you to look for the spoon holder on the set and let me know what you find.  Early in the story, Froggy says that he has brought Betty a gift: two new spoons to add to her collection.  In the performance I saw, she took the new spoons over and carefully placed them in…an empty display case.

The collector in me thought, “That’s odd.  I wonder if she already filled a case and it’s in another room, or maybe she had told Froggy that she was starting a new collection, or…”  It didn’t distract me for long, and I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all except that when I was looking at the publicity photos that B&B provided me I saw a spoon display case that was nearly full.  I wonder if whoever was in charge of placing the spoons forgot on Thursday night.  Or, I wonder if the spoons kept falling off and clanking in a distracting way during final rehearsals and so the decision was made to leave the case empty during performances.  Or, I wonder if the person who owns all those spoons in the photo in real life started to worry that one would get lost and so demanded at the last minute that they be returned to her or him.  Hmm.

I can spin my wheels about this kind of stuff for hours, unfortunately.  So on second thought, don’t focus on the spoons.  Whether they are there are not when you go, just observe and move on to enjoying the rest of the show, as I did.

Ed Stockman is the stage manager and Bill Mollencupp is the technical director.  There are some cool, “homemade” (by the characters) special effects in this show that I won’t describe because I don’t want to spoil them.  However, I will say that they are just the right balance of startling and believable.

Terry Woods’ costume designs are just right, too, from Betty’s enthusiastic, fear-nothing rain gear to Catherine’s lovely outfits for gracious living to Owen’s shirts that reveal his barbed-wire tattoo.  I feel fortunate that I can only imagine that the white robes with pointed hats are just right, too.

Miscellaneous Mentions and Notes

This play opened in New York in 1984 after a premiere in Milwaukee.  It won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best American New Play and Best Off-Broadway Production.

Julie was my server this time and she did a good job.  The buffet prepared by Chef Odell Ward and his staff was well stocked with comfort food as usual.  It seemed especially comforting on a cold winter’s night.

Whoever shoveled and salted the walks and the spacious parking lot did a good job, too.

Eddie told me that if I ever get writer’s block again (referring to some of my posts last month) he has a bunch of juicy stories he can tell me to get me going again, as long as I promise not to use anyone’s real names.  As Charlie would say, I think, “Blazny, blazny!”

Kate Braun and Jeff Stockberger in "The Foreigner" at Beef and Boards.  Photo by Julie Curry.

(All photos above were taken by Julie Curry.)

Box Office

“The Foreigner” runs at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre through February 7, 2010.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 317-872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.  Tuesday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays.  For more information or show schedule, please visit www.beefandboards.com.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

Follow @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com for at-the-show observations and comments, too.

P.S. – I apologize for not getting this review up yesterday (Sunday) as I had promised earlier.  My computer gave me some problems yesterday.  One of my goals for 2010 is to a) re-evaluate the virus protection service I use and b) find someone who can help me figure out what else might be making my home laptop run so slowly.  It is running fine this morning, though, so I think my main problem is that McAvee just decides to update something (ie, lock up the computer for hours) whether I am in the middle of working on something or not.  Grr.

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