Sammie Joe Kinnett Is Brilliant As “The Foreigner”
Reviewed by Tom Jones
October 20, 2017
Charlie Baker is a well-meaning copy editor in London. He hasn’t had much of a marriage. His wife of many years has found him to be incredibly boring, so boring that he is beginning to agree with her. She is seriously ill in a hospital, but doesn’t care to have him around, and is glad to have him out of the way for a few days while he accompanies a friend on a trip to the USA.
Charlie’s friend, Froggy, is an explosives expert in the British military and takes Charlie with him to Georgia, leaving him in a rural hunting lodge while he goes to on his explosive training assignment. Charlie is traumatized by the thought of being left alone, perhaps requiring him to engage in even minimal conversation. Froggy hatches a plan, telling the lodge owner that Charlie is a “foreigner,” does not speak or understand ANY English, and must be left alone.
Unfortunately, while pretending to not understand nor speak any English, Charlie overhears some conversations among the lodge’s guests that he should not have heard. The “foreigner” ruse is beginning to have serious implications. The ensuing two and one-half hours are a delightful, and sometimes-sobering look, at how we feel about foreigners amongst us. Charlie goes through the machinations of understanding nothing, and becoming involved in pantomiming what he needs, while the guests speak louder and louder, as if that will help him understand.
Sammie Joe Kinnett is astonishing as the boring Charlie Baker. He becomes incredibly alert in his silence, and ultimately has positive effects on everyone around him. Josh Robinson is believable as Froggy, Charlie’s military friend who creates the “foreigner” image for his friend. A great foil for the speechless Charlie is Ellard Simms, the maybe-mentally-challenged brother of a guest in the lodge.
Lance Rasmussen is super as Ellard. Ellard and Charlie have great scenes together including an over-the-top breakfast when they try to outdo each other in figuring out what the other is trying to relate. Their hijinx end up with each holding a glass on their heads – for no apparent reason except to enjoy the incredible happiness of finding friendship. Ellard believes that Charles might just be smarter than he appears to be, and vice versa. Ellard decides to teach Charlie how to read English – in just three days! And while immersed in his own bubble of disbelief, Charlie realizes that he is not so boring – and that he actually has a personality.
The entire cast is uniformly excellent. Edith Weiss is very good as Betty Meeks, the lodge owner who has no knowledge of anything outside her bit of rural Georgia. Greg Ungar is the mean-spirited county inspector, eager to condemn the lodge property. Zachary Andrews and Jessica Robblee are the Reverend David Marshall Lee and his pregnant girlfriend Catherine. Lee has designs to buy the lodge and turn it into a White Supremacy headquarters, using money from his heiress girlfriend. The girlfriend, Catherine, is accompanied by her half-witted brother Ellard, who just might be brighter than appears.
The clever play, written by Larry Shue, premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theater and opened off-Broadway in 1984, directed by Jerry Zaks. Initial response was not overly-enthusiastic, but gained word-of-mouth momentum. It received Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards, including Best New American Play. Playwright Shue died in a plane crash in 1985, not realizing the success the play would ultimately receive. The play has gone on to receive worldwide acclaim.
The Arvada production is directed by Geoffrey Kent, with the set designed by Brian Mallgrave. The mood of the production is in constant flux – from high hilarity to somber realization that evil remains among us. The ultimate result is one of inspiration and hope – with the understanding that each of us has potential of being an influence for good – often when we least expect it.
Where: Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, CO 80003
When: Through November 18, 2017