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THE FOREIGNER at Kavinoky brings Buffalo’s best talent to zany comedy

THE BASICS: THE FOREIGNER, a 1984 comedy by Larry Shue, never out of repertory, directed by David Oliver, runs through May 20, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2:00 at the Kavinoky Theatre on the D’Youville campus, 320 Porter Avenue (829-7668). Plenty of parking on campus lots. Beer, wine, coffee, fresh fruit, giant cookies. Runtime: 2 – ½ hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Every year military demolition trainer Froggy LeSueur comes to Georgia and always stays at the same fishing lodge managed for years now by Betty Meeks. This year, he has brought his reluctant friend, the nerdy and shy science fiction editor Charlie Baker, who needs a little cheering up. After Charlie bemoans having to meet new people and be sociable, Froggy comes up with the idea of telling everyone that Charlie is “a foreigner” who speaks no English. The great fun of this play is how each of the others reacts to Charlie – from Catherine Simms who now has a confidant to whom she can tell her deepest secrets to Catherine’s younger brother Ellard, who has finally found a true friend, to the violent Ku Klux Klansman, Owen Musser, who is plotting to get his hands on the lodge and the Simms family inheritance.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Just as with the light comedy THE AWFUL TRUTH across town at the Irish Classical, the essence of this stage comedy is that we in the audience know a secret which the rest of the players don’t know. With a somewhat flimsy premise to begin with and characters who tend to buy into Charlie’s ruse with some, but not too much push back, this is right in the wheelhouse of “dinner” or “community” theaters from coast to coast.

But, and it’s a big but, the acting and production elements at this Kavinoky production are at a level far above what you’re likely to see elsewhere. From the moment you enter the theater, you’ll be stunned by the detailed lodge great-room set by David King, with two levels, three realistic (not “stagey”) entrances, fireplaces, old wooden beams, old stone work, picture windows, and the requisite lodge deer heads. And the props and set dressing by Diane Almeter Jones provide what television calls “high production values” – the difference between daytime soaps and prime time dramas.

And, as I’ve often said, when everything works, and there are no weak spots, then you have to credit the director, in this case David Oliver, for letting the audience settle in and just enjoy a show with no false notes.

And David Oliver went to an “A list” of Buffalo talent, actors with serious cred, people who can inhabit a role and make it come to life. Anne Gayley usually plays widows these days, but unlike her last several outings portraying women who are sad and a bit bitter, here she is delightfully nutty as Betty Meeks, and with her hair, makeup, and Southern accent was almost unrecognizable. Go Anne!

And speaking of bitter, David Mitchell is, once again, absolutely astounding as the middle aged white man with a beef against the world, a role he has perfected over the years in such vehicles as GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, TRUE WEST, and CLYBOURNE PARK. Offstage one of the nicest people, onstage he is truly scary as Klansman Owen Musser.

Since 2013, after ten years in New York, Aleks Malejs (say “malaise”), has been tearing up the boards in Buffalo, bringing a depth and nuance to every role she plays. If you don’t know Ms. Malejs, but are familiar with Scarlett Johansson from the movies, you know what to expect when she’s in a scene, here as Catherine Simms.

David Oliver went to an ‘A list’ of Buffalo talent, actors with serious cred, people who can inhabit a role and make it come to life.

Speaking of movie actors, The Kavinoky opened this season with THE PRODUCERS which, in the movie, starred Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom and locally had funnyman Brian Mysliwy in that role. Now, the Kav wraps up the season with another Broderick role, Charlie Baker, the non-English speaking “foreigner,” and here funnyman Kevin Craig steps into those shoes. (By the way, both Mysliwy and Craig appeared side by side last month in the Irish Classical’s THE NIGHT ALIVE for a high voltage evening.)  Charlie Baker is a plum role and Craig makes the most of it, jumping on furniture, crawling around on the floor, and generally playing the fool (which, by the way, he’ll be this summer in Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s KING LEAR).

Patrick Moltane as Froggy, Christopher Evans as Rev. Lee, and Dan Urtz as Ellard Simms are each completely at ease in their characters. This is a comedy, but it has melodramatic moments, and one of the finest was at the curtain calls, when, as each of the “bad guys” in the play came out, they were roundly booed by the audience, with great affection of course, since they were so marvelously dastardly.

So, a breathtaking moment before the play while admiring the set, great timing and comic shtick during, and spontaneous audience participation at the curtain; what a show!

Photos courtesy Kavinoky Theatre

UP NEXT: The Kavinoky has announced its 2018/2019 season, opening with Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD, September 7 through 30, to be followed by A DOLL’S HOUSE PART 2, SPAMALOT, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, then closing with EQUIVOCATION.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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