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'The Foreigner,' Romantic Comedy

New York Times
November 1, 1987
By Leah D. Frank

Studio Theatre

It has been tough going at the Studio Theater recently, as this once innovative, adventuresome theater has turned to a more lucrative schedule of producing lightweight work with amateur casts. Fortunately, light entertainment can, when it is well done, make for a delightful evening in the theater, and the current production of ''The Foreigner,'' by Larry Shue, is as good as it can be.

The play, a long-running Off Broadway comedy, is about how people perceive one another, their society and themselves. The complex, albeit perfectly logical, set of complications that propel the plot are sparked by a morose Englishman named Charlie, whose unfaithful wife has convinced him that he is one of the world's dullest men.

A friend of his, an army explosives expert named Froggy, is doing some consulting work at an American military base in Georgia and convinces Charlie to come along. Charlie, immersed in depression, does not want to meet or talk to anyone, so Froggy devises a scheme to protect Charlie from the people at a small guest house with the elegant name of Betty Meeks's Fishing Lodge Resort. He introduces Charlie as a foreigner who cannot speak or understand English.

The reaction of the various characters to Charlie, the now exotic foreigner, says a great deal about human nature and is often side-splittingly funny. The residents and visitors to Betty Meeks's Fishing Lodge are a collection of easily identifiable representative types.

''The Foreigner'' is a fantasy of good and evil in which, not surprisingly, good triumphs. Yet, although the ultimate ending is predictable - this is, after all, a romantic comedy - the play has enough warmth and truth in it that it is not only funny, but also often moving.

The director, Macey Levin, has given us a flawless production with a first-rate cast. Miles Lott is charming as the self-deprecating Charlie, who radiates gentleness from every pore. Joan Cole is exuberant as the good-natured and accommodating hostess, Betty Meeks. Fred Maliszewski is hilarious as the lovable Ellard, whose A fantasy about good and evil; guess who wins? heart is as big as his mental capacity is small.

Adelaide Daddio and David Horan give strong performances as mismatched lovers, and Michael Selvaggio is properly loathsome as the mean-spirited property inspector. Joe Sansone is stiff-upper-lip British military cool in the face of what appears to him an incomprehensible maneuver.

Michael Green has designed a whimsical set by relying primarily on black and white paint to create a charming light and airy central room for the fishing lodge.

''The Foreigner'' is solid entertainment, and one of the best productions that the Studio Theater has mounted in a long time. It continues through Nov. 14.