Director Beth Bristol admits the play’s characters seem farfetched. And yet she thinks a lot of us can still relate to The Foreigner, a farcical comedy opening this month at Hendersonville Community Theatre.
“If you grew up in the South,” says Bristol, “you know these people. You were in school with these people. They may have been your neighbors.”
The zany script, written by Larry Shue, has been a staple of theaters since 1985. But it also pushes emotional hot buttons and politically correct boundaries. That can make it a risky choice for a small-town company — especially in the wake of an election year that inspired vulgar discord and widespread protest.
None of that potential for controversy is lost on Bristol.
“Yeah, there is a baby born out of wedlock. The Ku Klux Klan shows up. But I want to keep the performance true to the play, and I love the fact that it is theater, not opinion — it’s a comedy show. We need to look at what we’ve lived through and be able to laugh. When life gets to where we can’t sit down and laugh about it, there’s no point to it.”
Protagonist Charlie Baker, played by Jonathan Forrester, is an Englishman who finds himself at a fishing lodge in rural Georgia, surrounded by strangers. But Charlie suffers from multiple social phobias and extremely low self-confidence. His strategic pal Froggy convinces him that the best way to manage his fears is to pretend to be a foreigner who cannot speak a word of English. The deception works — perhaps too well. The more outrageous Charlie’s charade becomes, the more his charisma and popularity grow. That emboldens Charlie to continue babbling in a nonsensical tongue nobody has ever heard before — since he’s making it up on the fly.
Bristol has acted since she was a little girl, but this is her directorial debut. She works three jobs — one of them as an assistant kindergarten teacher at Atkinson Elementary School — and that’s in addition to her extracurricular creative efforts at Hendersonville Community Theatre. Plus, much of the preparation for the performance took place during the busy holidays. Talk about pressure.
But she shrugs it off as much ado about nothing. “I have a great set designer and a great costumer, and it’s a funny show. The people in it are humorously amazing … with years of experience at their craft.” (Last year, the four-decade-old company rebranded from its former incarnation, Hendersonville Little Theatre, adding a second stage and a comedy venue.)
As the relationships between actors and characters have emerged during rehearsals, the chemistry is palpable — and hilarious. “I just want people to be entertained,” says Bristol. “To open the new season of the theater laughing at themselves, their family, the people they know — and life and community as it is.”
The Foreigner opens on the Main Stage at Hendersonville Community Theatre (229 South Washington St.) on Friday, February 17, and runs through Sunday, March 5. Performances are at 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2pm on Sundays. $22/general, $18/students (over 18), $12/youth (under 18). For tickets and information, visit hendersonvilletheatre.org or call the box office at 828-692-1082.