THE FOREIGNER: Hilarious Hijinks at Burlington County Footlighters

by Terry Stern

Burlington County Footlighters is a venerable, South Jersey theatrical mainstay about to celebrate its 74th year in operation. A non-profit corporation, they had been gypsy until 11 years ago, associated but never at home with several venues before lighting upon a permanent base which turns out to be a community theatre’s dream and the envy of many: a former school with its cafeteria converted into a sweet performing space with a cozy, raked house and perfect sight lines. Classroom walls upstairs knocked out provide excellent work and space. But the main thing easing the way when entering the Playhouse is the feeling that you’re coming into your own enchanted room. It feels like home.

Cast members (l. to r.) Bob Beaucheane, Timothy Petrillo, Dave Marquart, Emily Huddell, Alan Krier and Phyllis Josephson in Larry Shue's The Foreigner at Burlington County Footlighters in Cinnaminson NJ through November 19.

You don’t see the playing area upon entering the theatre space. You traverse a passageway, being conducted between worlds, and exit facing a set which is completely satisfying in every way. It’s not beautiful. It shouldn’t be. It’s a fishing lodge in Tilghman County, Georgia. It’s not a glory. It’s not a breath-taker. It’s simply perfect. It is absolutely what the set of THE FOREIGNER should be. Perfect.

The play, a farcical nose-poke at racism, is very funny. You gasp as the villainy of the Rev. David Marshall Lee, played with smarmy charm and righteous viciousness by Timothy Petrillo, is revealed. You cheer when the villainy is exposed by the foreigner himself, former British army officer Charlie (no, it’s not a code, it’s my name) Baker, played with full, sad-eyed wistfulness by Alan Krier.  You are vindicated when Reverend David is popped like a pustule at the end and blurts, “I just wanted it to be a surprise,” when pressed by angry fiancé Catherine Simms, played by Emily Miller Huddell like a steel magnolia in full bloom, about the duplicity of hiding his true self from her. Mr. Petrillo, Mr. Krier, and Ms. Huddell packed entertainment in very well. Thank you for your very fine  performances.

The story takes place in the fishing lodge owned by Betty Meeks, played with quirky provincial energy by sprightly Phyllis Josephson. She very comically likes spoons from exotic, far-off places like Canada and Taiwan. Betty Meeks is in a pickle because of corrupt county building inspector Owen Musser, gleefully played by Robert S. Beaucheane who should be given a Golden Cracker award for this romp. Thank you Ms. Josephson, and thank you, Mr. Beaucheane for sharp, funny performances.

Instigator of the action and bringer of the story’s climactic end is Daniel Brothers as alcoholic military bomb disposal expert, SSGT. “Froggy” LaSueur. Mr. Brothers is a hoot and a half. To Froggy LaSueur, success is a matter of finding the right approach, and that’s what Mr. Brothers does. Earnestly caring for his former officer, now despondent friend, he contrives the plot twist which leads to the hijinks. He exudes deft, non-com invention and the smoothness of a well-lubricated tongue. Very elegant performance, Mr. Brothers. Thank you.

The big highlight for me was David Marquart as Ellard Simms. He gives a performance which is spot on in movement, voice and speech. His comic timing kept my laughter set no lower than chuckle any time he was on stage and then made it leap contentedly into belly laugh range when teaching Alan Krier the word “lamp”. A professional performance, Mr. Marquart. Thank you. Live long and keep working.

The production is full of high spots: Catherine’s confession to Charlie that life isn’t all she’d hoped was very moving. Ellard and Charie with glasses on their heads at breakfast is a belly laugh. But it is not a perfect production. I have two notes.

First, please bring down the rain sound when the dialogue starts in the opening scene. Its insistent, looping presence is distracting. Once the rain is  established, we won’t find it odd that it stops and starts.

Second, and more seriously, the show runs too long with just enough glitches to take the very top off the peak enjoyment the audience might have enjoyed given the level of the performances but was unable to attain because it worried something was going to go wrong. So the audience response was good, but less than the actors deserved.

Going to community theatre is often like going to a baseball game. What you count and what you remember are the very exciting highlights. This production, with whatever shortfalls there may be,  has highlights in spades. You don’t want to miss the incomprehensible story, possibly about a tractor, which Alan Krier skips and flops and gurgles randomly in Floppytalk, which he’s inventing on the fly, as he ostensibly tells a great story in his own tongue (named Floppy). You don’t want to miss Phyllis Josephson’s ecstatic gush that she especially liked the part about the tractor. It’s very funny. See it. The actors and the Playhouse are worth getting to know and support.

by Larry Shue
Directed by Valerie Mazzagatti
Burlington County Footlighters
808 Pomona Rd
Cinnaminson, NJ
November 4-19 , 2011

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