Michelle Collier and James Walker star in The Foreigner

Michelle Collier and James Walker star in The Foreigner

Famous fables set for stage

Beach House Theatre offers entertaining tales with a message for 2016 season

As Beach House Theatre notes in its promotional material for the Aug. 9-14 return of summertime tent theatre to Crescent Beach, a fable is a story meant to teach a lesson.

With the daytime children and family-oriented show Aesop’s Fables, the company is revisiting some of history’s most famous lesson-stories – albeit in a wild and woolly format conceived by playwright Mike Kenny and presented engagingly by young director Courtney Shields and her high-energy troupe.

But it’s not too much of a stretch to see Beach House’s evening offering as something of a fable, too.

The Foreigner, by Larry Shue, directed by Beach House co-founders Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon, is, first-and-foremost a contemporary comedy – some have even gone so far as to call it a farce, although it doesn’t quite fit that mold.

Set at Betty Meek’s Fishing Lodge, in Tilghman County, Georgia, it’s the story of shy, mild-mannered Englishman Charlie Baker (familiar Peninsula comedy talent James Walker, on a break from training at New York’s Circle In The Square), who’s looking for a quiet retreat from his troubles.

With the help of his friend Staff Sgt. ‘Froggie’ LeSueur (Greg Derksen), a British Army explosives instructor, he adopts the subterfuge of pretending to be a “foreigner” from an obscure country who speaks not a word of English.

But rather than avoid trouble, he finds himself the recipient of too much information, as people alternately confide in, or make indiscreet conversation in front of, the “foreigner” they believe can’t understand a word they’re saying.

And when he, unintentionally, becomes party to a disturbingly evil scheme being hatched in the supposedly quiet, rural surroundings, Charlie must discover the heroic side of his nature to take on the bad guys.

On one level The Foreigner works as a lightweight comedy-of-errors. But on another – without belabouring any of its points –  it leaves the audience with some thought-provoking ideas about the dangers of isolationism, venality, racial intolerance and demagoguery.

In Charlie and the people he meets – including friendly and naive landlady Betty, soon-to-be-married Catherine Simms (played, respectively, by well-known local actresses Michelle Collier and Rebekah MacEwan), Catherine’s shy and awkward brother Ellard (Jacob Hildebrand), her intended, Rev. David Marshall Lee (Elliot Figueira) and disagreeable local property inspector Owen Musser (Jeff Hacker) – The Foreigner brings into focus the potential of ordinary, good-at-heart people to defeat evil by combining their own strengths.

“It’s a piece of theatre that makes you laugh and makes you think at the same time – and it does seem to be more and more relevant to what’s going on in the world with every week that goes by,” Radcliffe noted.

“It’s an important message, especially with what’s going on today,” added Harmon. “And people love to see bullies taken down.”

But they maintain that they were primarily seeking an entertaining piece – rather than delivering a message – when they chose The Foreigner as Beach House’s first foray into contemporary theatre, after three seasons of Shakespeare plays and last year’s The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde.

“It was a matter of finding something that fit with the flow of shows – that’s what it came down to,” Radcliffe said.

“We do respond to our audiences and we watched them embrace Wilde – the clear, modern, non-Shakespearian English. People loved that, and we also know that we have to keep going in new directions.”

“It also was finding something that would work with our audience and the outdoor setting,” Harmon said.

“We read play after play that were set in close, interior spaces,” Radcliffe added.

And while the close-to-nature lodge setting of The Foreigner seems more appropriate for Beach House’s state-of-the-art tent theatre at Blackie Spit, that doesn’t mean the play is without its share of challenges for the company’s technical staff, Harmon said.

“It’s interesting – the opening scene takes place at night in a thunder and lightning storm, and it will still be bright daylight behind our stage,” he said. “It clearly calls for a suspension of disbelief – and a lot of sound and lighting effects.”

And the Beach House crew are rising to the challenge, he said.

“I think they welcome it for a change – after all, ‘Earnest’ was pretty much lights up and lights down.”

Also rising to their challenge are Beach House’s Aesop’s Fables group (Claire Pollock, Bethany Stanley, Matt Falleta and Steven Masson), under the direction of locally-raised Shields, who earned a return engagement with Beach House for her inspired handling of last year’s family show, Munsch Upon A Time.

“I feel like this cast is taking the script to a new level, and Courtney, having performed and directed, understands that you have to involve the kids and make them part of the show,” Radcliffe said.

“We always wanted to encourage families to come out and bring kids to see live theatre,” Harmon said.

“One of the things I like to see is the kids lining up to get autographs and pictures with the cast after the show, and during the question period they always have such interesting and pertinent questions to ask.”

For more information on showtimes and booking tickets visit www.beachhousetheatre.org

 

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