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VALLEY WEEKEND | THEATER REVIEW

Two Roads Attempts a Play Better Left Undone

Larry Shue's early comedy "The Foreigner" is light and often ludicrous at Two Roads Theatre.

September 05, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Why the late playwright Larry Shue continues to be remembered for "The Foreigner" and "The Nerd"--light, sometimes haplessly contrived comedies--and not for his affecting and powerful "Wenceslas Square" says more about the way theaters operate these days than it does about Shue. That his last and best play is almost never seen, while the earlier comedies are incessantly revived, is just a cheat to audiences.

The cheat continues with yet another revival of "The Foreigner"--though the first in the San Fernando Valley--at Two Roads Theatre. With its overlay of the Ku Klux Klan and the theme of intolerance, "The Foreigner" isn't a completely dumb comedy. Just irritating.

The list of strained contrivances is longer than space will allow, so we won't explain how it is that shy Charlie (Robin Hubbard) has managed to be put up by his British army pal Froggy (Eric Lange) at lodging in deepest Georgia run by motor-mouth Betty (Helen Siff).

Charlie's natural tendency to shut up around people leads Betty, Catherine (Kim Tobin), her reverend husband, David (Todd Kimsey), and her mentally slow brother, Ellard (Mark Jobe), to believe that he's a foreigner who can't speak English.

Being a smart, resourceful man, Charlie is forced by the plot to play dumb and go along--one of many reasons why "The Foreigner" is simply a bad play. All of this is combined with a ludicrous subplot about David's Klan activities involving the nasty redneck Owen (Jerry Kernion). Another reason for "The Foreigner's" badness is how the subplot hijacks the play and becomes the main plot, climaxing with the Klan storming the lodge to torture Charlie and terrorize Betty.

None of this can work even with the best of casts. Director Joe Ochman's is far from the best, ranging from Hubbard's nicely subdued Charlie to the continually overacting Siff and Tobin. Jobe and Kernion deliver forced and cliched portrayals of good ol' boys. Lange's Froggy barely suggests the proper British military man, and Kimsey is fine until his big emotional moment at the end, when the comedy is no longer intentional.

The miscalculations extend to John Ross Clark's set, which is a big ugly brown room, and Steve Heiman's lights, which are awfully bright when the lodge's power is supposedly cut. As if the show needed more problems, Two Roads is about as stifling as a theater house gets this time of year. It's not a compliment to say that this "Foreigner" nearly takes your breath away.

DETAILS

* WHAT: "The Foreigner."

* WHERE: Two Roads Theatre, 4348 Tujunga Blvd., Studio City.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 7 p.m. Sundays.

* HOW MUCH: $12.

* CALL: (310) 967-4655.

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