As the summer winds down and we head into fall it’s worth noting the success of one of this season’s bigger theatrical gambles.
Beach House Theatre at Crescent Beach made a departure from “classic” material for its main play – after three seasons of Shakespeare and last year’s The Importance Of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – with The Foreigner, by Larry Shue.
While it could be argued that the frequently-revived 1983 comedy is a modern classic, it’s still classed as a contemporary piece.
The serious themes it explores, however – xenophobia, racial intolerance and demagoguery – are, of course, highly contemporary in the context of 2016.
And Beach House’s virtually sold-out run Aug. 9-14 showed that its highly appreciative audience – already devoted to summer theatre on the Crescent Beach waterfront – was more than ready to make the leap into a different realm of popular theatre, and accepting of thought-provoking themes, particularly with a play as funny and entertaining as Shue’s piece.
Directed by co-founders Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon, Beach House’s production of The Foreigner served the material well.
Well-known comic talent James Walker, as the title character – quiet Englishman Charlie Baker, seeking a sojourn from his troubles at Betty Meek’s Fishing Lodge, in Tilghman County, Ga. – seemed unusually muted in early expository scenes in which it was decided that he would pose as a foreigner who spoke no English.
But that was only a necessary prelude to hilarious scenes in which Charlie’s mockery of the ‘bad guys’ – Rev. David Marshall Lee and property inspector Owen Musser, conspiring to take over the lodge as a KKK headquarters – made full use of Walker’s timing and exuberant glee in the role.
Elliot Figuera had the smarminess of Lee down well, although he didn’t quite project the dynamic presence required for such a villain, but Jeff Hacker was a constant delight as archetypal ignorant back-woods bully Musser, particularly in his beetle-browed confusion at Charlie’s mocking ploys.
Also delightful was Michelle Collier as good-natured Betty, particularly in capturing the character’s sheer joy at Charlie’s presence at the lodge, and Jacob Hildebrand was touching and likable as the socially awkward Ellard Simms, who ultimately proves as resourceful as Charlie in facing down pure evil.
Rebekah McEwan, as Ellard’s sister, affianced to Lee, but discontented in her lot, was particularly effective in scenes where the character demonstrated her growing attraction to Charlie and rediscovered affection for her brother.
Greg Derksen as Charlie’s buddy Froggie LeSueur, a British Army explosives instructor, employed a cockney accent that sometimes seemed to veer off in the general direction of Australia, but he did well in realizing the drily funny, affable nature of the character.
Costumes, by Linda Weston, along with set design and decoration and lighting did a fine job of creating a sense the time and place, particularly with the challenges of Beach House’s open-air theatre conditions.
Congratulations, too, to the group responsible for Beach House’s other success, a children and family-friendly version of Aesop’s Fables, featuring Claire Pollock, Bethany Stanley, Matt Falleta and Steven Masson under the direction of locally raised Courtney Shields.