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The good, the bad and the painfully shy

An Obie-Award-winning play reveals the dangers of pretending you can't speak Englsih

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2001

Charlie is overwhelmed with fear at the thought of making conversation with strangers. He's so shy that his friend tells people he's from an exotic foreign country and can't speak English.

Charlie is the title character in "The Foreigner," a Juneau-Douglas Little Theatre comedy opening this weekend at the Palace Theatre. "The Foreigner," written by Larry Shue in the early 1980s, was a long-running off-Broadway play and the winner of two Obie Awards.

Set over the course of a weekend in a run-down backwoods fishing lodge in Georgia, the play features Keith Aisner as the pathologically shy Charlie. Mike Wittig plays two roles, as Charlie's friend, British demolition expert Froggy LeSeuer, and as Owen, a devious property inspector. Bill Hurr serves as director and plays David Lee, a sinister, two-faced minister. Shelly Aisner plays Catherine, the minister's pregnant fianc, and Shane Walker is Ellard, Catherine's slow-witted brother. Dottie Davis is Betty, the owner the rural fishing lodge.

Froggy, a regular at Betty's lodge, brings Charlie to the lodge one weekend. Charlie is shy around strangers so Froggy concocts the exotic foreigner story. The play takes off at that point, when Charlie hears more than he should - the plans of the evil minister and the crooked property inspector - and other damaging revelations made with the idea that Charlie doesn't understand what is being said.

"The set up is in the first 20 to 25 minutes, after that it's just antics," said director Bill Hurr. "The script is a nice balance between physical shtick and really nice use of language. It's good comic writing."

"The Foreigner" has Hurr doing back-to-back comedy this winter. Hurr played 10 characters in the two-man comedy "Greater Tuna" last month. He didn't plan on being so busy, but he couldn't resist either play. Hurr played the priest for two seasons in "King Island Christmas" and liked the idea of playing a sinister minister.

He worked with four of the cast members in other productions, and in some ways they cast the show before they picked it.

"Keith and Shelly, Mike Wittig and Dottie - we all wanted to do a comedy," Hurr said. "Dottie Davis suggested the script. She directed it in South Carolina."

Davis taught high school drama and directed community theater for many years in South Carolina before moving to Juneau in 1998. She said she pitched the show to Hurr and the cast because she knew it was funny, and she wanted to play Betty Meeks.

"She's just a fun person, a salt of the earth good old girl," Davis said. "She's funny and she's got a lot of good lines."

Davis called the show PG-rated.

"The shtick and slapstick appeals to kids, and the subtext is more appropriate for an adult audience, but it's all funny. It's funny on a lot of levels," she said.

"The Foreigner" opens at 8 p.m. Friday at the Palace Theatre. It runs at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday until Feb. 10, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, Feb. 4. Tickets are $14 Friday and Saturday, $10 Thursday and Sunday, and are available at Hearthside Books.

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.



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