Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Shue's sturdy 1984 play concerns Charlie Baker (JJ Kaczynski), a shy Englishman thrown among unfamiliar people in a fishing lodge in rural Georgia. Charlie's boisterous friend "Froggy" LeSueur (Field Blauvelt) has come to the American South to conduct explosives training at a nearby Army base, and he thinks Charlie can use a change of scenery.
When Charlie becomes nearly frantic at the thought of making conversation with strangers, Froggy tells the innkeeper, Betty Meeks (Rusty Clauss), that Charlie is a "foreigner" who can't speak or understand English. The complications all flow from that central premise.
The first sign that this is going to be a first-class production is James Kronzer's awe-inspiring multi-level set. The details are numerous and perfect, from the needlepoint and quilted pillows on the sofa to the stone fireplace and chimney, from the bearskin rug to the painted wall plaque that holds the room keys. The program sets the time as "the recent past," but this production appears to be set in the time of the play's authorship, the early 1980s.
Kaczynski, with his square jaw and malleable face, is instantly likable as Charlie. Whether he's clutching a sofa pillow, trying to make himself invisible, or taking big bites out of his two extended set pieces, he's delightful to watch. Clauss is a small woman with tremendous presence, and Blauvelt inhabits his role comfortably.
The rest of the cast is just as good, although a couple of the performances take time to warm up. Lindsay Haynes starts out emphasizing the prickly side of her character, former debutante Catherine Simms, before the warmth has a chance to come out, and Ben Shovlin makes Catherine's lovable brother Ellard seem more undereducated than "slow" as described in the script. Clinton Brandhagen is appropriately mild as Catherine's fiancé, a minister with a few secrets, and Delaney Williams ably portrays the menace of a hulking redneck.
Anne Kennedy's costumes fit the characters without calling attention to themselves, and lighting designer Charlie Morrison has helped Kronzer stir up some clever special effects.
Olney Theatre Center