Friday, June 24, 2022
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KC Rep’s new comedy keeps the audience in stiches


“The Foreigner” is absolutely delightful theater. It is a wildly fun romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and its effervescence is its biggest accomplishment. This comedy, while set in the 1980s, is timeless when it comes to laughs.

The show revolves around two Englishmen, the meek Charlie Baker (Martin Buchanan) and his friend, Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur (Rusty Sneary), who travel to a fishing lodge in rural Georgia. Charlie’s wife, with whom he has a problematic relationship to say the least, is dying. Hoping to take his mind off the matter for a little while, Froggy has taken his friend across the pond. Feeling like a fish out of water and deathly shy, Charlie is still unhappy so his friend cooks up a scheme to allow Charlie complete privacy. Froggy tells the landlady Betty Meeks (Kathleen Warfel) that Charlie is foreign and doesn’t understand any English. At first Charlie is embarrassed and hesitant to perpetuate this lie, but soon he finds it freeing and starts to really have fun with the act.

People reveal incredibly private things in front of him, believing he cannot understand them, and he quickly starts to understand the drama and deceit of the people staying at the lodge, including the slow Ellard (Kyle Hatley), his sister, the heiress Catherine Simms (Emily Shackelford), and her fiancé, preacher David Lee (Charles Fugate). Charlie uncovers a plot to take the lodge away from the sweet and dotty Betty, seemingly spearheaded by Owen Musser (Gary Neal Johnson), a redneck building inspector.

For a show that has the Ku Klux Klan drop in to threaten characters, “The Foreigner” stays away from the easy and crude dark comedy route, as well as managing to keep from becoming completely ridiculous and offensively slight in its treatment.

There are moments in the show that are so incredibly hilarious that the laughter continued longer than the actors could wait for it to subside.

Buchanan’s depiction of the change in Charlie is commendable. The transition from a man who is looking for a personality to one whose personality is larger than life never feels forced or rushed. The show only works because of Buchanan’s committed performance.  To be utterly comedic one has to be extremely courageous, and Buchanan puts himself out there and leaves it all on the stage.

The performance Hatley puts in as Ellard is challenging physically and a difficult role to play without overacting or coming off as disrespectful. He manages to veer from the stereotypical or insensitive in the role, instead imbuing the character with personality and energy. It would be difficult not to love his version of Ellard. His chemistry with Buchanan is great and their scenes when Ellard is teaching Charlie English are some of the best in the show.

Sneary is fantastic as Froggy, a role that is fairly small and mostly used to set up the conceit of the play and the ending. Despite that, Sneary’s Froggy is incredibly genuine. One of the stand-out moments in the play is a long space of time where Sneary has little dialogue, but his reactions to what is going on and seeing his greatly changed friend is phenomenally funny.

The rest of the cast is equally impressive. Warfel is great in a part that seems made for her. The self-centered, but kind-hearted Catherine is handled well by Shackelford and Fugate is appropriately slimy in his role. Johnson plays a role quite opposite from his last few and seems to relish playing the ignorant, backwoods hick.

Slapstick humor and outrageous antics keep the laughs coming and the audience enthralled, even with a much longer playing time than most comedies. “The Foreigner” should not be missed.

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