Bill Largess, Rena Cherry Brown and Sean McComas in Bay Theatre Company’s The Foreigner (Photo courtesy Bay Theatre Company)
Outside the city limits of the District is a small gem that is a literal underground player in the DC Metro theatre scene. Located 45 minutes away in Annapolis, the Bay Theatre Company can be found in a small professional office plaza basement underneath a law office. The operation has a Mom & Pop feel that is highly reminiscent of the old county store where I would buy candy after school.
Everything about The Bay Theatre has a homey feel to it, from the cushioned Costco folding chairs to the post-show reception line where Artistic Director Janet Luby and Operations Manager Steven Strawn personally shook the hand of every patron that saw the show. The experience was much more intimate than any show I’ve seen at Arena, Studio, or Woolly Mammoth.
Where The Bay Theatre Company may not sport lavish spaces or resources, they more than make up for it in the product they produce if their current production of Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” is any example. Anchored by a well nuanced performance from lead actor Bill Largess, the show delivers a smart comedy that is a step above your typical farce.
The most impressive aspect of Largess’ performance is not what he says, but what he doesn’t. In the role of Charlie, a British bloke with major social anxiety issues, he finds himself stuck in rural Georgia while his friend Froggie (Britton Herring) is away conducting training exercises with the American military. He is stranded in a small inn inhabited by the inn-keeper Betty (Rena Cherry Brown), a Reverend (Peter Wray) and his fiancée (Annie Grier); and the fiancée’s little brother (Sean McComas). In order to avoid the awkwardness of social interaction, Charlie pretends to be a European foreigner that doesn’t understand English. Hiding behind his false persona, he spends much of the show in silence, acting as if he doesn’t understand anything that’s going on around him.
Without any lines, the role becomes more challenging than ever- how can you get laughs from the audience when you are unable to say anything? It takes self discipline, full control of your body, and animated facial expressions to pull it off. All things that Largess has mastered as the audience roared with laughter from a well-timed swallow of the throat or a cursory glance. Where typical farces rely heavily on slapstick elements, The Foreigner requires precise reactions and Largess hits it on the nose.
Filling the silence created by Largess is a strong supporting cast. Rena Cherry Brown as the Innkeeper is a delight to watch and newcomer Sean McComas plays the dim-witted Ellard with the right balance that doesn’t go too over-the-top. I found Catherine, the reverend’s fiancée and former beauty queen, a bit irritating at times. Her constant state of bemoaning combined with a booming southern drawl just got under my skin.
Like most farces, miscommunication and mistaken identity are elemental to the plot and both can be found in The Foreigner. However instead of relying too much on crude humor, Shue weaves scenes that make you think as it reels you in. I dare you to watch the breakfast scene and not chuckle with a sense of warmth. Take note how Charlie manages to turn the tables on the Reverend David, who has ulterior motives for the future of the inn.
Shue’s The Foreigner still gets laughs today as it did 16 years ago because it touches upon the timeless themes of social graces and interpersonal communication. I highly recommend that you make a weekend getaway to Maryland’s Eastern shore to not only catch a gem of a show, but a hidden gem of a theatre in the local area.