Starr makes Manoa Valley’s ‘The Foreigner’ welcome
Veteran stage actor David Starr can always be counted on for a strong comic performance. His work in the title role of Manoa Valley Theatre's "The Foreigner," an oft-produced contemporary farce, proves the point. Starr's portrayal of Charlie Baker, a painfully shy man who reinvents himself while surrounded by people who think he doesn't speak English, succeeds on all counts. Starr captures the farcical aspects of the role in bold style but doesn't miss the subtler nuances.
Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre, continues at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through May 21. Tickets are $25, with discounts for seniors, military and youths. Call 988-6131.
Playwright Larry Shue's premise is simple. Charlie, a science-fiction writer, has been having a bad time in England, and so his best friend, British Army Staff Sgt. "Froggy" LeSueur, persuades him to come along on a trip to America. The only problem is that Froggy, the only person in America Charlie knows, will be spending part of the time on base, and Charlie will have to stay with one of Froggy's female friends.
Charlie panics at the prospect of being alone in amid strangers. An offhand comment by their hostess inspires Froggy to tell her that Charlie doesn't speak English. Charlie falls into character to spare a couple embarrassment when he accidentally overhears them discussing their sex life.
Charlie's uniqueness as a foreigner in rural Georgia quickly makes him a human litmus test for measuring the humanity of those around him. His hostess raises her voice when speaking to him because that's what you do when talking to people who don't understand English; she's soon telling the others that she is able to communicate with him despite the language barrier.
One of the others decides to teach him English and is amazed at how quickly Charlie masters the basic vocabulary. And, predictably, as this is a contemporary comedy that relies heavily on Southern stereotypes and dialect humor, others taunt him and reveal themselves as xenophobes.
Starr displays a firm command of the material in shifting between British English, the "foreign" accent that Charlie puts on when pretending to learn American English, and the pseudo-Slavic gibberish that is supposedly his native tongue. Starr's animated performance in the scene where Charlie is supposedly telling a story in his own language is a broad comic highlight, but Starr shows his skill at subtle characterization elsewhere as we watch Charlie become more confident in his new persona and then start using his new-found powers -- sometimes in risky or problematic ways.
Director Jerry Tracy, who is directing a local production of "The Foreigner" for the fourth time, surrounds Starr with a talented cast. Erik J. Krummell gives an excellent performance as Ellard Simms, a slow-thinking teenager whose interest in teaching the "foreigner" becomes the key to developing his own intellect. Genny Wilson fills out the challenging role of Catherine Simms, a rich but unfulfilled woman who finds new reasons to enjoy life as she shares her cares with a man who (she thinks) doesn't understand a word she's saying.
Jim K. Aina (Froggy), another adept comic actor, has a great scene in Act 2 when Froggy finds that Charlie's new self-confidence now borders on cockiness. Buck Ashford (Owen Musser) brings an eerie air of authenticity to the worst and most stereotypical character. Regina Ewing, the sole returning member of the cast that Tracy assembled when he directed "The Foreigner" at MVT in 1988, channels Frances "Aunt Bee" Bavier in playing gullible but kindhearted Betty Meeks.