New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"The Foreigner"
Laura Pels Theatre (Roundabout Theatre)

In these trying times "The Foreigner" is just silly enough to be thoroughly enjoyable, and director Scott Schwartz has offered up a spiffy revival of playwright Larry Shue's farce.

Like any good farce, "The Foreigner" begins with one deception, which moves into a series of hilarious misconceptions and mistaken identities. Charlie, arriving from England with his friend Froggy, and settling into a Georgia inn for a vacation, is agonizingly shy and can't talk to strangers. Froggy (a sergeant at a nearby army camp) deals with that by introducing Charlie as a "foreigner" who speaks no English. In no time, Charlie makes friends and enemies, teaching them his "language" and learning English from the natives. Along the way, he develops a new self-confidence, besting his enemies and helping the good guys resolve their own problems. The playwright-and the actors-have a good deal of fun with this creation of a make-believe language, a device which has been used in other plays, but certainly to no greater effect than in "The Foreigner."

The success of this production is also due to Schwartz's able direction and to superb casting. Schwartz has worked in collaboration with his actors to achieve a feeling of spontaneity and improv. As the timid Brit visiting this country, Matthew Broderick has a made-to-order role-and he plays it deliciously. (Broderick, fortunately, wanted to do this role before assuming the part of his most famous wimp in the soon-to-be-filmed "The Producers.") But "The Foreigner" offers other treasures in the flawless cast--in Kevin Cahoon as the backward country boy, Byron Jennings as Froggy, and Frances Sternhagen as the ditsy innkeeper. And Mary Catherine Garrison is delectable as the girl who wins Broderick's heart.

Not that "The Foreigner" itself is flawless. It would, in fact, have benefited from a speeded-up pace. Farce, at its best, depends on split-second timing, and there are moments which drag. But, all told, "The Foreigner" succeeds, and Shue even manages to incorporate a more serious message-namely, the difficulties human beings have in communicating, in this warm-hearted, feel-good piece.

-- Irene Backalenick
Nov. 13, 2004

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