YCDS's The Foreigner: Native Territory
This article is a review of last year’s Spring semester YCDS production. Look for an upcoming review of the Fall Semester’s production of Twelve Angry Men this coming January.
What does it mean to be foreign? Is the “odd one out,” the Other, always as alone as he looks? The Foreigner, YCDS’s 99th production, considers all angles. The play’s main character, Charlie, played by senior Arye Fohrman, is a shy man, petrified of speaking to others for fear he might bore them. Yet when his somewhat mismatched comrade Froggy, a tough drill sergeant from overseas played by junior Ben Scheiner, needs to go on a brief excursion elsewhere, Charlie is forced to stay at a nearby fishing lodge all on his own. Charlie and Froggy contrive a plan to help Charlie avoid speaking to others. Charlie pretends he is a foreigner who has never before learned English, and lo and behold, the plan works! Yet Charlie’s lack of participation in conversation naturally makes him the center of attention. Meeks, the head of the lodge, played by senior Ariel Meiri, is absolutely fascinated that he’s hosting a “foreign” man, who must surely be worldly and knowledgeable. Conversely, the ripped-shirt, tattooed-arm badass Owen, played by junior Doni Mandel, sees Charlie as a threat to his white supremacy KKK interests, and makes his grand objective Charlie’s undoing. Between lauding Charlie with sympathy and awe and tormenting Charlie with threats and taunts, The Foreigner comes to enlighten its audience about the various meanings and approaches to the concept of “foreignness” and asks its viewers to question whether conventions like identity and persona are as clear-cut as they may seem.
Although YCDS has an extraordinarily small stage and theatre to work with, this production employed all possible techniques in order to make the show a success. With careful lighting and use of every inch of stage, they creatively made the single setting of the play, the fishing lodge, integrated with the theatre as a whole. All of a sudden, the audience itself became included in the events, from the upbeat musical interludes with the singing fishermen to the emotional monologues of Charlie, Owen, and Meeks. Having personally attended on closing night, the atmosphere was of a heightened mood as never before, with the crowd joining the fishermen in song and clapping right along!
The set of the show was superb. Having gone to the theatre about two weeks prior to opening night, I had the pleasure of seeing the log-paneled lodge being put together by hand. I watched YCDS’s Netanel Shafier, chopping wood with an electric saw to lend a truly authentic feel to the handmade set. Additionally, successful use was made of a trap door on the upper level of the stage, as well as use of a staircase ascending to the second level and beyond into backstage. The various actors, though often rushing about, never faltered in their smooth travels through the labyrinthine setup.
While the production was wonderful, the program of The Foreigner was far from polished. Although providing amusing bios and thank-yous from the cast and crew as well as a sweet “Director’s Note” from Ms. Lin Snider and a helpful “History and Context” insert from Shafier, the program was unfortunately polluted with typos and grammatical errors. Certainly secondary to the production, the program is nonetheless the material manifestation of a performance for the attendees to take home, and it is a shame to provide the audience with second-rate work. There was not a board or cast bio that was not littered with typos and that did not oscillate between third person and first person. Next semester, it would be worthwhile for YCDS to assign someone personally to do a hard round of editing before the program goes to print.
That being said, the essence of the production, the very show itself, was nothing less than superb. In a unique way, I would venture to say that something in the depiction of each character, good or bad, calm or hysterical, quiet or talkative, was, in a word, lovable. For example, the character of Ellard, played by junior Evan Schwarzbaum, immediately evoked sympathy for the apparently rather slow adult son who, though initially foreign to the others because they doubt his ability to contribute, proves everyone wrong and becomes included in the group when he teaches Charlie English. Similarly, the gruff role of Froggy, played by junior Ben Scheiner, made the tough army man adorable. Froggy cared and showed compassion towards Charlie’s inhibitions, while still giving off airs of pretention and overconfidence.
The challenges of playing an evil character cannot be overlooked, either. For example, the two-faced local preacher, David, is a difficult role that was successfully commanded by junior Baruch Karp. Karp’s ability to deceive and mislead both the characters around him, such as Meeks, as well as the audience itself, and ultimately show his true colors when his association with the Klan was made clear, is a sign of true talent. In one scene, a shifty-eyed Karp, listening to Meeks glow over Charlie’s wonderful foreignness, slowly turned his head with eyes that troubled the viewer and evoked not the overjoyed emotions of the naïve Meeks, but the evil and computing eyes of a Klansman sympathizer. The same notice should be taken of Owen. Mandel did a successful job in making both the audience and the characters on stage feel uncomfortable when he taunted to Charlie, when he planned to take over the lodge, and finally in his climactic appearance as leader of the local Klan.
The considerations YCDS must make in order to compensate for the lack of female actresses are always interesting and must be tidy, and this performance was no exception. While most programs for The Foreigner have Meeks as “Betty Meeks,” the simple switch to “Meeks” alone, played by seasoned actor Ariel Meiri, was smooth and unnoticeable. The role itself and the lines assigned to Meeks are almost entirely gender-neutral, and, as far as I recall, there is no husband assigned to Meeks, so there were no secondary considerations in this matter. Another interesting addition made by YCDS was the inclusion of the musical fishermen in between various scenes and at the opening and closing of the show, which improved the relationship between audience and actor, and spiked the atmosphere from neutral to overall optimistic.
YCDS’s 99th production of The Foreigner succeeded in relaying the play’s overarching message that everyone is a foreigner and no one is a foreigner, that while one might seem to live on the outside, or be out of control of the things around him, one still has things under his dominion, retaining control, order, and a sense of being “in the know.” This is the case with Bobby, played by sophomore Aaron Langert, who finds the unplanned pregnancy of his girlfriend Catharine to be a great source of stress in his life, while simultaneously having a large and fateful fortune under his jurisdiction. While everyone has a means of being in isolation, they also have a way to contribute and become unified with the whole.. YCDS not only relayed this message in its grand performance, but revamped and innovated to expand the foreigner-insider dynamic to be one with the very audience. This show was truly fantastic.