ABRAMS, Wis. (WFRV) – Two maestros of mirth shape Abrams Spotlight Productions’ version of “The Foreigner” that’s running for four more performances in Nancy Byng Community Theater.
One is playwright Larry Shue. He created the quirky/fun comedy for Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in 1984. He also had the knack in “The Nerd,” his other hit with roots in Wisconsin.
Another maestro is Mike Eserkaln, artistic director of ComedyCity in De Pere, who wears an array of artistic hats on the comedy scene. This time, directs an especially keen cast in a production that had the audience rockin’ and rollin’ with laughter at Sunday’s matinee.
The premise of “The Foreigner” is ridiculous, but the situation soon comes down to this: Who cares? Not when a super-nervous guy is passed off as not knowing the English language so folks at a rural Georgia resort believe he’s a foreigner. Comedic mayhem is all over the place.
Adding interest, a situation rises from what Larry Shue wrote 38 years ago that reflects some current feelings in America that aren’t pretty. The bad guys are bigots.
Still, the main thread of the play is comedy, and company members have a gift for it.
One of the prize scenes is a meal in which the “foreigner,” Charlie Baker (Bobby Buffington), mirrors the moves of a supposedly slow fellow (Kael Pierquet) as they eat breakfast. This is silent simplicity – no words, all timing, done slowly. The supposedly slow fellow purposely adds goofy moves, including placing a drinking glass on his head. When the woman who runs the resort, Betty Meeks (Carolyn Silverberg), shows up to see Charlie holding a glass on the top of his head, she thinks Charlie is observing a cultural tradition in his homeland – wherever that may be because nobody knows because it’s a “secret.”
A running joke is Betty shouts at the “foreigner,” as if his understanding will come with volume.
The main joke turns around Charlie’s service buddy, S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur (Will Knaapen), convincing others that Charlie cannot understand what they are saying, and they speak freely and say things he shouldn’t know.
Charlie learns much from the heart and soul of Catherine (Allison Schoel), including that she is pregnant by her fiancé, the slick Rev. David Marshall Lee (Tyler Otto), who Charlie learns is after her money.
A key comedic/prickly scene involves Owen Musser (Travis Rysewyk) scorching Charlie with big-time insults – and Charlie just sitting blankly. The monologue reveals that Owen’s ilk – including the coy Reverend – is planning to rid Georgia of “foreigners” and others who don’t fit their ideal.
The production is solid all around, including the look and atmosphere of the set and costumes and the lively crispness of the acting.
Bobby Buffington, Will Knaapen and Carolyn Silverberg make their characters “sing” with expressiveness. Allison Schoel, Tyler Otto, Travis Rysewyk and Kael Pierquet (age 15!) add individual pluses in the team success.
It’s the kind of performance – with knowhow woven into its fabric – that creates a positive buzz. It proves that Abrams is another place in the region where good theater can be found.
Running time: Two hours, 27 minutes
Remaining performances: 7 p.m. June 23-25; 1 p.m. June 26
Creative: Playwright – Larry Shue; director – Mike Eserkaln; assistant director – Maggie Dernehl; stage manager – Tanya Brehmer; set designer – Cyndee Sweetland; set construction coordinator – Bill Koehne; costume designer – Katie Jackson; lighting designer – Debra Jolly; sound engineer – Tanya Brehmer; props master – Allison Schoel
S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur – Will Knaapen
Charlie Baker – Bobby Buffington
Betty Meeks – Carolyn Silverberg
Rev. David Marshall Lee – Tyler Otto
Catherine Simms – Allison Schoel
Owen Musser – Travis Rysewyk
Ellard Simms – Kael Pierquet
NEXT: “White Christmas” musical, Dec. 1-4, 8-11.
THE VENUE: The Nancy Byng Community Theater is located at 5852 Maple St. in Abrams. The 167-seat theater is the former St. Louis Catholic Church, built in 1927. Seating is in individual padded chairs. Roman arched windows from the former church are uncovered, revealing eight stained-glass windows. Wooden walls and the ceiling panels made of compressed cardboard are painted black. Wooden flooring includes the image of the classic comedy/drama theater masks in the center aisle. In the rear of the theater is a concession area that serves pop, popcorn, candy and light alcoholic beverages that may be consumed in the theater.
THE PERSON: Nancy Byng was involved in many facets of creativity, from painting to costume designing to directing to writing scripts. She co-founded the theater company on 2003 with her great-nephew, Brandon Byng, who continues his involvement in directing and acting in Clintonville and elsewhere. Nancy Byng died in 2011.