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A CurtainUp Review

The Foreigner

I sometimes wonder -- how does one obtain a personality? ---Charlie
Kevin Cahoon and Matthew Broderick doing their comic cup dance (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Comedy comes in almost as many shades as the color wheel, with an underlying moral or without any aim other than to amuse. Tragi-comedies. Sophisticated satires driven by one-liners. Slapstick comedies relying on physical shtick. Farces with at least four constantly slamming doors or slam-bang humor predicated on a schlemiel type discovering his non-schlemiel qualities as he extricates himself form an absurd situation.

Not being inordinately enamored of the hokey schlemiel farce epitomized by Larry Shue's The Foreigner , -- even with an always timely underlying moral -- I probably would have skipped seeing the Roundabout's version of the Scott Schwartz directed revival I saw two years ago at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. But the box office savvy company has played an irresistible trump card by casting Matthew Broderick as Charlie Baker, the personality challenged, cuckolded Brit.

The milquetoasty Charlie is made to order for Broderick's ability to segue from apathetic unassertiveness to animated, airy physicality, and to keep a poker face no matter how absurd things get. He also jumps from Brit-inflected English to a Shue-fangled pig Latin and joyfully pronounces seemingly just learned words in an odd foreign accent. In what's probably the evening's comic highlight, he plays a gleeful Simon Sez game involving a little dance with orange juice cup balanced on his head.

The same designers who worked with director Schwartz on the Berkshire revival have been enlisted for this production. Anna Louizos' woodsy Georgia lodge is a little taller to accommodate the Laura Pels stage but the show's look is pretty much as I remember it. Schwartz has also hired Kevin Cahoon to recreate his role as the dim-witted Ellard Simms. A smart move, since Cahoon, something of a Ray Bolger look alike, is a perfect counterpoint to Broderick's Charlie.

The rest of the current cast, which includes the always wonderful Frances Sternhagen as Betty Meeks and Byron Jennings as Sergeant "Froggy" LeSueur, ably supports these two clowns. Good as they are, unless your comic tastes run to hokey L'il Abner variations, Broderick is the only excuse for giving this community theater favorite a major Off-Broadway production.

For more details about the plot , check out my Berkshire Theatre Festival review. My reluctance to recommend it as a nonstop, highly charged hilarious evening applies now as it did then. To get to the better second act, you must sit through the lengthy first act's many a stagnant moment with long pauses between laughs. To be fair, on the night I was at the beautiful new Laura Pels Theatre, there were plenty of people who were obviously having a grand time. And of course, there is the truly hilarious Broderick.

The Foreigner
Author: Larry Shue
Director:Scott Schwartz
Cast: Matthew Broderick and Frances Sternhagen; with Kevin Cahoon, Mary Catherine Garrison, Neal Huff, Byron Jennings and Lee Tergesen.
Scenic Design: Anna Louizos
Costumes: David Murin
Lights:Pat Collins
Sound: Janet Kalas
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission
Roundabout Theatre Company at Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. 212/ 719-1300.
From 10/15/04 to 1/16/05; opening 11/07/04.
Tickets: $61.25 - $71.25. Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30PM with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m. .
Reviewed by Elyse Sommerbased on November 10th press performance
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