Charlie Baker is not sure why he’s doing it, but decides to follow Froggy’s lead. (Photo by Lexi Bainas/Cowichan Valley Citizen)

Polish your language skills with The Foreigner

It’s all gibberish, but Charlie Baker’s personality receives a revamp in Chemainus Theatre production

In the beginning, Charlie Baker (Kirk Smith) just wants to be left alone and not have to talk to anyone.

After inadvertently becoming The Foreigner through his friend Froggy LeSueur’s (Paul Herbert) bid to hide him away, the exact opposite happens in the end during the Chemainus Theatre production that’s on now until May 9. Baker becomes a centre of attention, learns to love being around people and conversing with them – albeit in his own, well, foreign language.

The madcap adventures of The Foreigner emerge after LeSueur arranges a three-day mini vacation to Betty Meeks’ (Michelle Lieffertz) fishing lodge in Georgia for down-in-the-dumps Baker, whose wife’s long list of indiscretions numbers more than 22. Froggy tries to give his self-proclaimed boring friend a chance for a break by telling everyone else at the lodge that Charlie is a foreigner and speaks no English.

Charlie tries to avoid the comings-and-goings at the lodge, but it all eventually proves unavoidable when everyone involves him in their various life dilemmas. Knowing he doesn’t understand English makes it easy to spill the beans to him about anything and everything.

Charlie absorbs it all in his quiet and reluctant manner before receiving some English lessons from Ellard Simms (Nathan Kay) to break the ice.

Attempts to pin down just exactly what Charlie’s foreign language is never get very far and no one really cares except the Rev. David Marshall Lee (Sheldon Graham) and Owen Musser (Brett Harris), who have other bad ulterior motives on their minds.

Two key phrases stand out in Charlie’s rise to social prominence and acceptance.

“I think I’ve acquired a personality,” he beams amid much hoopla.

Following many trials and tribulations, “I don’t know what we would have done without you,” Catherine Simms (Mallory James), another lodge visitor, declares to Charlie.

The acting by the cast of The Foreigner is excellent, but Smith, Lieffertz and James are particularly outstanding in their respective roles. Smith’s deadpan expressions are great before he emerges out of his shell to speak gibberish so amazingly well; Lieffertz is just plain lovable as she goes about her business of maintaining the lodge; and James looks and sounds a lot like actress Kristin Chenoweth, fiery and friendly depending on the situation.

Carrying out the charade of The Foreigner does drag down some scenes, especially when Ellard and Charlie spend considerable time identifying every object in the room during Charlie’s English lessons. But it all makes sense in the end of how this introverted individual becomes an unlikely social butterfly and saviour.

Charlie’s newly-created language becomes somewhat contagious. People were leaving the theatre firing off some of his catchiest expressions, both in English and in the other concocted language.

It was almost reminiscent for those old enough to remember of the Nanu, Nanu greeting blurted out by Robin Williams during the heyday of the Mork & Mindy TV series and the whole language of Mork from Ork that evolved.

Nonsensical, funny, thought-provoking – the Foreigner covers all the emotions through an unlikely script.

Mark DuMez, the theatre’s artistic director, summed it up well in a piece in the program, talking about the comedy’s simple premise of “fake it till you make it.”

“Beneath this well-drawn and simple premise, like most enduring comedies, deeper roots are found,” he writes. “Each character has hidden potential which has yet to be discovered. These potentials range from generous to deeply sinister and it takes Charlie’s disturbance in their community to uncover each one.”

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What is going to happen next, the audience wonders when they see this. Little do they know. (Photo by Lexi Bainas/Cowichan Valley Citizen)

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