KPBS AIRDATE: September 11, 1996
The calendar may tell you that summer’s over, but don’t you believe it. You can still quench your thirst for a light, frothy refresher — compliments of Lamb’s Players Theatre. Make that a double.
At the Lyceum Theatre, in its third extended run, ”The Foreigner” still has them howling for more. Larry Shue’s irresistible comedy is the perfect picker-upper. You just can’t help yourself; it’s silly, but it’s hilarious.
After all these performances, David Heath could play Charlie Baker in his sleep, but he keeps killing ‘em every night, as the nerdy Englishman whose friend takes him away from his marital woes for a weekend at a Georgia lodge. Charlie’s so pained and painfully shy, that his friend Froggy whips up a scheme which won’t require Charlie to talk at all; he’s a foreigner, Froggy says, who doesn’t speak a word of English. Charlie is privy to all kinds of secrets, and, as he fakes a new language — and learning English — he develops a personality along the way, and manages to have a positive influence on everyone.
The breakfast scene and the gobbledy-speak rendition of Red Riding Hood are alone worth the price of admission. Special bonus this weekend: Lamb’s artistic director Robert Smyth steps into the role of Froggy, which has been terrifically played by John Carroll. Tall boots to fill, but Smyth should be a hoot. The rest of the cast is having a ball, too; they’re all good, but Chuck Batchman is a standout as the dim-witted younger brother Ellard.
There’s more than belly-laughs here; there’s a little mystery and intrigue, and an uncomfortable undertone about the Klan and white supremacy and bombs and world takeovers. That’s all under-played in this production, but it is a bit close to home these days.
“Chaps,” on the other hand, being a cowboy music revue, should be a lot closer to home, but it takes place overseas — in wartime London, 1944. We’re in Studio B at the BBC, and the special American guest stars — Tex Riley and his Radio Roundup — don’t show. So the producer, announcer, sound-man, actor and tour manager stand in. It’s the old ‘the show must go on’ gambit. Sort of a cross between “Cowgirls” and “The 1940’s Radio Hour.” Mostly, as all revues are, it’s an excuse to sing some playful, soulful, popular songs. And if you’re old enough to remember singing cowboys, you’ll love hearing rousing renditions of standards like “I’m an Old Cowhand,” “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds,” and that Gene Autry favorite, “Back in the Saddle Again.”
It’s corny and nostalgically sentimental at times, but it’s lively and spunky, and just the ticket to chase away the Back to School Blues. The spirited cast, mostly Lamb’s regulars, is having a heckuva time, particularly Doren Elias, with his transformations from uptight BBC prig to galloping cowpoke to barmaid Belle Starr, AKA Belle Canto, the Diva Deluxe. Although Jon Lorenz isn’t believable as the wheezing producer, he makes a superb dummy in the ventriloquist act.
It’s all cleverly directed by Robert Smyth. Ian Shields, as one-man, onstage, radio sound-effects man, is a whoop and a holler himself. So drink up the last drop of summer; Lamb’s is pouring it on.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.