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The Foreigner -06/21/1999

By Larry Shue. Cast: Dan Wolfe, Jake Schneider, Betsy Capes, Ashley Green, Stacy Freeman, Marc Lessman, Christopher Denham. Director: Peter Reynolds. Scenic Designer: Lee M. Boyer. Costume Designer: Melanie Parks-Baumgartner. Lighting Designer: Thomas V. Korder. Sound Designer: Sarah Wonak. Properties Designer: Karen Bohn.

Summerfest 99 in repertory through July 18. Studio Theater, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana. Box Office: 333-6280.


There are a few plays out there that seem to succeed no matter where they pop up.

Dinner theater, community theater, regional rep, off-Broadway? Pick any one you like -- "The Foreigner" will make itself at home.

The play's main focus is the Foreigner himself, a poor, sweet, put-upon Brit named Charlie Baker. Mired in a particularly miserable phase of his life, Charlie is dragged to a rustic fishing lodge in Georgia by his one chum, a hearty military man named Froggy.

Charlie is adamant that he doesn't want to have to meet and chat with strangers in this strange place. So Froggy has the brilliant idea of telling everyone at the fishing lodge that
Charlie comes from some distant, mysterious, unspecified country -- and doesn't speak a word of English.

The plan backfires, of course, as everyone quickly becomes enthralled with Charlie for one reason or another. He might've been boring before, but now he is exotic, fascinating, a raconteur!

Secrets are spilled in his presence, Charlie "learns" English and makes up a hilarious language of his own, the good guys and the bad guys each get what they really deserve, and everybody but the Ku Klux Klan has a good time along the way.

It's light, it's silly, it has lots of physical as well as verbal comedy, and there's even a message about tolerance and second chances if you're looking for something more under all the laughter. From beginning to end, "The Foreigner" is constructed for warmth and good-natured humor, with a couple of truly inspired scenes that bring down the house every time.

The University of Illinois Department of Theater makes the most of "The Foreigner" and its benefit in its delightful Summerfest 99 production, expertly staged by director Peter Reynolds.

Under Reynolds' sure hand, the pacing is perfect and the performances are first-rate.

At the center of the play, Jake Schneider makes a wonderful Charlie, with just the right sly, shy intelligence. Schneider is very good with all the physical stuff, and he seems to channel a certain Roberto Benigni-esque comic style that works beautifully. It is instructive that Schneider is so watchable and so appealing, even as he hops and skips his way through an adorably mangled retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, eats breakfast with a cup on his head, or simply sits back and absorbs what crazy things the others are doing around him. This is a marvelous performance.

Still, this cast works well as an ensemble, with good work across the board.

I especially liked Christopher Denham, who is fresh and energetic as the slow-witted, good-hearted boy who offers Charlie English lessons; Dan Wolfe, strong and stalwart in the pivotal role of Froggy; and Stacy Freeman, who shows real snap as Catherine Simms, a rich girl in a pickle.

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