The Foreigner

Austin Playhouse does right by this popular American comedy, mining all the laughs and also making its point

Lodge brothers: Michael Stuart as Froggy (l) and David Stahl as Charlie
Lodge brothers: Michael Stuart as Froggy (l) and David Stahl as Charlie (Photo courtesy of Christopher Loveless)

The Foreigner

Austin Playhouse at Highland Mall, 6001 Airport, 512/476-0084
www.austinplayhouse.com
Through June 22
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

Since its debut in the mid-Eighties, The Foreigner has become a favorite with both professional and amateur theatre companies, and one of the most recognized titles in contemporary American comedy. I can still recall a window card for the show hanging on the poster-lined wall of the community theatre where I grew up, advertising a production of a play that at that time would have been fairly new. Nowadays, The Foreigner has achieved near-classic status.

Austin Playhouse has always shown an especially pronounced flair for old chestnuts, and its treatment of Larry Shue's comedy is no exception. Don Toner's excellent direction smartly treads the tightrope of farce: The antics are ridiculous, but not to a degree where it's impossible to suspend our disbelief. David Stahl and Michael Stuart are stellar choices for Charlie and Froggy, who concoct a plan for anxious Brit Charlie to act as though he doesn't speak English during his stay at a fishing lodge in Georgia that's seen better days. Lodge owner Betty is played to the hilt of backwoods hilarity by Cyndi Williams, with Lowell Bartholomee equaling her over-the-top performance as the troubled Owen. Jason Newman portrays the Rev. David Lee, Owen's partner in crime, with just the right dose of melodrama – a most useful ingredient for his characterization.

Especially strong throughout the evening are Lara Toner and Stephen Mercantel as Catherine and Ellard Simms, respectively. This is a play that centers on character development, and Toner, Mercantel, and Stahl exemplify the shifting qualities in the journeys of their characters. For the most part, Haydee Antunano's costumes support the actors in communicating these aspects of their work, and the set by Mike Toner tells its story in wonderful tandem with the goings-on it frames.

When theatre critic Frank Rich reviewed the original off-Broadway production (directed by Jerry Zaks) in The New York Times, he commented that it "desperately wants to provide some silly fun," but that "its convoluted shenanigans hardly seem worth the effort." Indeed, between the laughs throughout the first act, one might easily wonder, "Where is this headed?" But partway through the second act, as circumstances take an unexpected turn, the tone changes rapidly and becomes very serious. Though the play doesn't take long to wrap up and provides plenty of additional laughs while doing so, it does have a thesis. Perhaps that's why The Foreigner has proven so successful; there's truly something here for every theatregoer, whether it's a play with a point, an evening of silly laughter, or both – both being exactly what Austin Playhouse's production delivers.

READ MORE
More The Foreigner
Applause! Applause!
Applause! Applause!
The 2003-2004 Austin Critics Table Awards

Robert Faires, June 11, 2004

Austin Critics Table Nominations, 2003-2004
Austin Critics Table Nominations, 2003-2004
The full list of nominations for the 2003-2004 Austin Critics Table Awards, recognizing outstanding achievements in local theatre, dance, classical music, and visual art

Robert Faires, May 14, 2004

More Austin theatre
Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

Exibitionism: Road to Nowhere
Detroit
Capital T Theatre's Detroit is a destination worth visiting, but you won't want to live there

Robert Faires, Sept. 5, 2014

More Arts Reviews
Gift Guide 2016: Haunted Holidays
Gift Guide 2016: Haunted Holidays
A few suggestions if you’re giving your Ghost of Christmas Past a present ...

Robert Faires, Dec. 2, 2016

The Haunted Bookshelf
The Haunted Bookshelf
Heavens, this series of reprints of vintage ghost stories may unsettle the composure of the steadiest reader

Robert Faires, Dec. 2, 2016

More by Adam Roberts
<i>When the Rain Stops Falling</i>
When the Rain Stops Falling
Strong writing and a robust cast make Different Stages' production stay with you

July 10, 2015

<i>The Sorcerer</i>
The Sorcerer
The Gilbert & Sullivan Society's latest show may be lesser known, but it still prompts plenty of smiles

June 26, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Foreigner, Austin theatre, Austin Playhouse, Larry Shue, Don Toner, David Stahl, Michael Stuart, Cyndi Williams, Lowell Bartholomee, Lara Toner, Stephen Mercantel, Jason Newman, Haydee Antunano, Mike Toner

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)