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After 23 Years, the Hampton Theatre Company Revives “The Foreigner”

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The Hampton Theatre Company in "The Foreigner." Courtesy of director Sarah Hunnewell.

Krista Kurtzberg, Ben Schnickel, Matthew Conlon and Diana Marbury in “The Foreigner.” Photo by Tom Kochie.

 

By Tessa Raebeck

After a widely successful run in 1991, “The Foreigner” will return to Quogue this month as the Hampton Theatre Company revives of one of its greatest hits.

“This show is just a very, very funny comedy, which we did 23 years ago with huge, huge sell-out success and so we decided, 23 years later, to revive it,” said HTC executive director Sarah Hunnewell, who is directing the play this time around.

“The Foreigner,” written by the late playwright Larry Shue, will run from March 13 through March 30 at the Quogue Community Hall.

It is the best-known play by Mr. Shue, a promising young playwright and actor who died in a plane crash at the pinnacle of his success in 1985. At the time of his death, two of Mr. Shue’s productions, “The Foreigner” and “The Nerd,” were enjoying successful runs both in London and New York, he was gearing up to make his Broadway debut as an actor and he was working on a screenplay of “The Foreigner” with Disney.

“It’s a silly play, but it has a lot of cards and it actually says some nice things about life and people and all that kind of stuff—but it’s wildly entertaining at the same time,” said Ms. Hunnewell.

Unhappy with his life, Charlie, a shy and awkward Englishman, is brought to a quaint fishing lodge in the middle of rural, backwoods Georgia by his friend Froggy.

“He basically, at the beginning, thinks he should never have come and is completely horrified with the fact that he’s there and he’s horrified by this seedy, peculiar fishing lodge in the rural south,” the director said.

Rather than adapting to his surroundings, Charlie decides to pretend to be a non-English speaking foreigner and invents a strange dialect so that no one will talk to him.

Diana Marbury and Matthew Conlon in "The Foreigner." Photo by Tom Kochie.

Diana Marbury and Matthew Conlon in “The Foreigner.” Photo by Tom Kochie.

“That’s sort of the comic premise of the play, the fact that he politically doesn’t speak any English,” Ms. Hunnewell said.

About to abandon his role-playing, Charlie gets stuck in his position when those around him begin to spill their secrets in front of him under the assumption he knows no English. Upon discovering an evil plot, Charlie must expose it without also exposing his own cover.

“It’s just a lovely, very fun piece and we’ve got a wonderful cast who are a joy to work with and all very talented,” said Ms. Hunnewell, who has directed all but two of the actors before.

Matthew Conlon is returning to the HTC stage after a near 20-year hiatus to play the lead role of Charlie. “It’s a nice fit, it’s like going home to that theater,” said Mr. Conlon of his return to the Quogue stage.

“The character is just like an outsider. It’s an outsider story about someone who finds himself through the challenge of having to extend himself to other people,” said Mr. Conlon. “At its heart, it’s sort of a sublime foolishness, but it has a heart to it. There’s something about this play that’s very sweet and real.”

Longtime HTC members Diana Marbury and James Ewing are reprising the roles they played in the original production, with Ms. Marbury as the naïve innkeeper Betty Meeks and Mr. Ewing as “this nasty southern stereotype guy,” Owen Musser, said Ms. Hunnewell.

“Jim is having a wild time, he loves his character. He plays the bad guy—which is always very fun to do,” Ms. Hunnewell said.

“It’s always interesting to come back to a role and just revisit it and see how it changed,” said Ms. Marbury. “You have different casts, so the other people involved in the show bring a different dynamic to the play itself—and, consequently, to you and your character. So, each time it’s a very fresh kind of piece.”

Other HTC veterans include Joe Pallister as the complicated Reverend David Marshall Lee, Terry Brockbank as the cheerful Froggy and Ben Shnickel as Ellard Sims, “sort of the comic character because he’s very dumb,” according to Ms. Hunnewell.

“Our new Ellard is just a charming young man that has done some work with us and really has quite a good grip on the character,” Ms. Marbury said of Mr. Shnickel.

James Ewing and Matthew Conlon in "The Foreigner." Photo by Tom Kochie.

James Ewing and Matthew Conlon in “The Foreigner.” Photo by Tom Kochie.

Newcomer Krista Kurtzberg plays the beautiful young debutante Catherine Simms. A native of Georgia, Ms. Kurtzberg is “a great addition in terms of getting our accents right,” said Ms. Hunnewell.

Primarily a drama director, Ms. Hunnewell has found a welcome challenge in directing comedy, especially with her cast of friends and longtime collaborators.

“The actors in a comedy have to just be good comic actors because you cannot teach comedy. Comedy is all about timing, delivery and timing, and if you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it,” she said.

“The challenges of doing this kind of comedy for me are to play it as truthfully as possible,” added Mr. Conlon. “This character, Charlie Baker, is funny because of situation and circumstances. I don’t think he’s trying to be funny, I think it comes. So for me, it’s to really find the values and the moment-to-moment reality that allow the play to be funny.”

“There just has to always be truth in the character, and as long as the character is real, the comedy or the drama come out of that,” said Ms. Marbury. “One of the tricky parts is not just playing for laughs, so the laughs come out of the truth of the character and also the dialogue—the premise itself.”

“The Foreigner” will run from March 13 through March 30, on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. at the Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Avenue in Quogue. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors (except on Saturdays) and $10 for students under 21. The Hampton Theatre Company is offering special dinner and theater packages in collaboration with the Southampton, Westhampton Beach, Hampton Bays and Quogue libraries. For more information or to make reservations, call 866-811-4111 or visit here.