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St. Louis by Robert Boyd

The Foreigner
Repertory Theater of St. Louis

Revivals are one thing, but the current production of Larry Shue's sweet-tempered semi-farce The Foreigner at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis is more like a resurrection. In this case, that means the first-rate original creative team of director Edward Stern, set designer John Ezell, costume designer Dorothy Marshall Englis, lighting designer Peter Sargent, and stage manager Glenn Dunn are reunited—after a mere quarter century hiatus—with predictably delightful results. From the rustic wood of the interior of Betty Meeks' lodge/hotel in rural Georgia to the dead-on clothes and the slickly handled special effects , this is a thoroughly charming production.

In the intervening twenty-five years, The Foreigner has probably been staged by every community theater group and every high school theater department in the United States, or at least it seems that way. But seeing it at the Rep, with such high production values, and with such a talented cast, is an altogether different experience. The core of the familiar story—Charley, the shy Brit, stuck against all odds in the deep South, pretending he speaks no English, getting involved willy-nilly in the shenanigans of the locals, including a gaggle of grotesque Ku Klux Klansmen—is pure farce, but there's a sentimental overlay to the characters and their circumstances that rounds off the jagged edges and makes the play much more than a string of gags.

Like farce, though, this play is completely dependent on the ability of the cast to work as an ensemble and on their individual and collective timing. With Edward Stern at the helm, a strong sense of ensemble is a given, and the seven doughty actors have all the technique needed to make sparks fly. John Scherer, who has considerable experience playing idiosyncratic Brits (including the inimitable Bertie Wooster), is spot on as Charlie, the buttoned-up proofreader who unfolds himself like a butterfly in the process of inventing and selling a vaguely Slavic-speaking alter-ego.

Jay Smith, as a redneck bigot right out of Deliverance, shines both physically and vocally in a thankless role, while Matthew Carlson handles the role of his slicker but more insidious partner, an ingratiating preacher with a hidden agenda, with just the right touch of oily sincerity. Winslow Corbett is splendid as a former debutante ripe for exploitation, and Casey Predovic all but steals the show as her good-hearted but not particularly bright brother. Carol Schultz is a sympathetic and charming Betty, reinvigorated by her contact with Charley, and Brent Langdon is appropriately manly and heroic as Froggy LeSueur.

All in all, the Rep's holiday production of The Foreigner is likely to be a crowd pleaser, and even those who like a little more meat on their dramatic bones will find that the technical side of this production—and the acting—set it apart from and a long way above the ordinary. The show will run through December 23; for ticket information call 314-986-4925 or go to www.repstl.org.


-- Robert Boyd

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