Curtain Call: A foreigner and the KKK clash at Phoenix Stage Company

Phoenix Stage Company, Oakville: Not all heroes wear capes. Some of the most unlikely heroes manage to save the day without ever taking flight or speeding faster than a train. Consider Charlie Baker, the protagonist in The Foreigner, a farce by actor/playwright Larry Shue. Charlie is a shy and boring Englishman. He’s so boring that his wife, who has had 23 lovers since marrying, him has asked his good friend Froggy LeSueur to take him to America while she recuperates in an English hospital. It is in a backwoods fishing lodge in Georgia where Charlie’s life takes a turn that he never imagined and where he becomes a most unlikely hero.
The Foreigner is currently on the boards at the Phoenix Stage Company in Oakville. The capable cast under the direction of Donna Storms reveals the well developed characters in this fun-filled farce. Chuck Stango, a local actor who has captivated many an audience in his numerous performances, continues to do so as the shy Charlie Baker in this production. When we first meet Charlie, Stango creates a sad sack look that leaves no doubt in the audience’s collective mind that this is a shy and awkward guy. However, knowing Stango’s penchant for hamming it up, it doesn’t take long before the actor turns the character upside down and inside out to reveal a lovable comic hero.
Because Charlie is so shy, he doesn’t want to talk to strangers. So Froggy tells the owner of the lodge that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks no English. Therefore no one should speak with him because he feels embarrassed. Because of this, the characters speak freely about their plans and plots, thinking that Charlie doesn’t understand anything they are saying. Oh, the secrets Charlie learns.
Certainly one of the most memorable performances of the evening belongs to Phoenix’s executive director, Ed Bassett, who plays Froggy LeSueur. He’s such a natural and confident actor that he is totally believable from the moment he steps on the stage. Whether using an accent or standing off to the corner and listening to others, he is always in character and in the moment. Bassett is an actor’s actor.
Jonathan Ross is another outstanding actor who steps into the mean-spirited role of Owen Musser, a member of the KKK. Ross is so good in this role that he makes you want to hate this character. Ryan Holub makes his Phoenix Stage Company debut with his role as Ellard Simms, but Holub is so relaxed on stage that his performance is spontaneous, uninhibited, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Tori Richnavsky also delivers a thoroughly genuine performance as Catherine Simms, the wealthy fiancée to the Reverend David Marshall Lee, played by Gary L. Kline. Carol Grant as the lodge owner also makes her debut at the Phoenix.
Overall, this is a very good show and a highly entertaining night out. On opening night, the pace was a little slow, but will undoubtedly pick up as the show continues through its March 31 run. Box office: 203-632-8546.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]