By MARTY CLEAR
Back in the 1980s and into the '90s, Larry Shue's farce The Foreigner was one of the most ubiquitous plays around.
It's very funny, so it was popular with audiences. It's light, so it was popular with community theaters. It has a fairly small cast, so it was popular with professional theaters that always keep an eye on budgets.
The Foreigner isn't as trendy these day, but American Stage is revisiting the old favorite with a new staging that opens Friday.
"It's not done as much lately as it has been in the past," said director Matt Chiorini. "We're trying to shake off some of the dust. People who know it will find some freshness in our production, I think, and people who haven't seen it will find it just as funny as audiences did in the '80s."
Shue died less than a year after The Foreigner opened in New York (where it ran for nearly 700 performances and won all the big Off-Broadway awards) and never achieved the kind of fame he seemed destined for. He had one other play, The Nerd, that was also very popular, plus a few lesser-known works. Shue was 39 when he died in a plane crash and never created a large enough body of work to gain name recognition among theater audiences.
The title character in The Foreigner is a very shy Englishman who finds himself in a hunting lodge in rural Georgia. He wants to be left alone, so he pretends that he is from some unnamed European country and that he doesn't speak English. He talks, instead, in a made-up language that is somewhat intelligible to the audience, kind of like Andy Kaufman's character on Taxi.
Because the others think he can't understand, they speak freely to and in front of him. He hears about some nefarious plans, including something involving the Ku Klux Klan. So he has to let the good guys know what the bad guys are up to without blowing his cover.
The American Stage production mixes some of the best local artists with some out-of-towners who will be familiar to theater audiences. Matt Lunsford works regularly on both sides of the bay (he was in Jobsite's 39 Steps earlier this year). St. Petersburg's Natalie Symons had the title role in Freefall's Becky Shaw. Beth Dimon is a former American Stage regular.
New York-based Chiorini had been in three American Stage productions going back to 1999's The Winter's Tale and most recently Opus in 2010. Director Chiorini hails from Syracuse, and has directed Much Ado About Nothing and Fully Committed for American Stage.
Marty Clear can be reached at [email protected]