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vancouverplays review

 

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— Photo by Ron Reed. Pictured (L-R): Erla Faye Forsyth, Peter Carlone, John Voth, Kaitlin Williams.

THE FOREIGNER
by Larry Shue
Pacific Theatre, 1440 W. 12th Ave.
Sept. 20-Oct. 12
$19.99-$29.99
www.pacifictheatre.org or 604-731-5518

Everyone into the pool

Anytime any theatre company endures for thirty years, anywhere, congratulations are in order—more so for Pacific Theatre, the non-Orwellian cultural institution that arose in 1984 to explore new material germane to the Christian faith. And, hey, that’s a good thing.

Tall on faith and short on corporate funding, Pacific Theatre now occupies a 128-seat “alley-style” theatre at 12th & Hemlock that affords a long and narrow space originally designed to accommodate a swimming pool. Unfortunately this means seating must be divided into two opposing sections (like grandstands for a football field, only squeezed onto a subway station platform) so actors can never address the entire audience directly. Despite their affiliation with Holy Trinity Anglican Church and an admirable mandate to serve as the health food store of Vancouver theatre, providing only fare that is nourishing to the soul, an angel has yet to appear to finance some sorely needed air conditioning. 

Through more than one hundred productions, Pacific Theatre has also remained true to an alternate, double-barreled agenda: 1) to foster emerging artists (such as playwright Lucia Frangione, who gave them a hit play, Espresso, to be remounted in May-June; and Evan Frayne, recipient of the Sam Payne Award for most promising newcomer); and 2) to facilitate original work, even if it can be “uneven,” as they say. Their next play in Oct.-Nov. will be Communion by Daniel MacIvor, so it’s not as if Pacific Theatre can be accused of relying on lightweight material. How MacIvor’s script about a psychiatrist will cohere with the stated Pacific Theatre agenda “to serve Christ in our community” remains to be seen, but at least the title sounds Christian.

After thirty years, Pacific Theatre deserves some leeway.

If founding Artistic Director Ron Reed wants to mark their anniversary by remounting The Foreigner by Larry Shue, well, God bless him. This 1983 comedy from Milwaukee is unabashedly zany, fluffy, silly fun. Even though Mathew Broderick reprised the leading role off-Broadway for ten weeks in 2004, it is still dinner theatre without the dinner. It is much closer to the Beverly Hillbillies than the Bible.

In fact, the mainstay of this much-enjoyed Pacific Theatre production—the wholehearted performance that leads the audience to accept the silliness as a story and leads the other actors to believe this play could really be about something—is provided by Erla Faye Forsyth, who echoes the indomitable Irene Ryan as “Granny” in the aforementioned sitcom. Forsyth is nowhere near the age of Grandma Clampett, but her heartfelt zeal as the proprietor of a failing rural lodge in redneck Georgia generates a sense of place for this zestful but inherently goofy comedy.

One is obliged to give some semblance of plot: This is a play in which four weak people with one croquet mallet unite to vanquish a hooded, terrorist Ku Klux Klan invasion. Credit must be given to any director—in this case, Evan Frayne—who can convince any cast that they are not really back in high school, where The Foreigner is most often mounted, and credit must go to the Pacific Theatre cast for jumping onto this raft of exuberance with some collective faith in its rather daft construction.

A British soldier named Staff Sergeant Froggy inexplicably brings his hapless English friend Charlie Baker (B for Baker, C for Charlie…) to Betty Meeks’ lodge for respite from Charlie’s failed marriage. Charlie’s wife was sleeping with nearly everyone but him; and now she’s dying. He is such a sad sack that he can’t even undertake normal social intercourse. Foggy tells Betty that Charlie is from some exotic country so he needn’t converse with anyone.

Charlie’s nearly invisible character is so withdrawn that his presence goes unnoticed during an intimate conversation during which he overhears that Southern belle Catherine is pregnant. To mollify her, Charlie and Froggy further indenture the comical conceit that Charlie is a foreigner, someone who doesn’t speak English.

There are two bad guys: Catherine’s Bible-thumping fiancé, David, and a demented Klan leader, Owen. They are conspiring to get the lodge as headquarters to promulgate their nasty, nefarious New World Order. If David weds Catherine, he’ll gain access to her fortune,

Charlie pretends to learn faltering English from Ellard, a good-hearted but mentally challenged local yokel who is played with unswerving aplomb by Peter Carlone. While frequently resorting to invented bafflegab in his improvised foreign language, the seemingly inarticulate Charlie gradually gains the trust of the southern belle, the local yokel and the wholesome-hearted Betty, whose debtload will soon force her to sell the lodge.

As Ron Reed advises, “Don’t go looking for messages: just settle in and have a good time.” Hidden message or not, trivia buffs might want to know Charlie’s fake vocabulary includes the word Klaatu, also the name of a Canadian rock band that was widely rumoured to be The Beatles in the Seventies. They, in turn, had taken their name from an extraterrestrial named Klaatu in the 1951 sci-fi flick, The Day The Earth Stood Still.

But we digress. There is a trapdoor. There is an explosion. Good triumphs over evil. In 1995, The Foreigner was the first, “full-on, crowd-pleasing, feel-good comedy” that Pacific Theatre had ever produced. Revivalism is, after all, a Christian tradition. The Lord works in mysterious ways. Happy 30th.

Paul Durras

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerry Wasserman