Tried and true at the theater

Familiar plays including 'The Foreigner' and 'Dial M for Murder' are currently on local stages.

Nov 9, 2016 at 12:50 pm

click to enlarge Veteran actor Rodger Pille (left) gets laughs in "The Foreigner." - Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Veteran actor Rodger Pille (left) gets laughs in "The Foreigner."
While many theaters take pride in producing new works and avant-garde scripts that expand what can be done onstage, many simultaneously need to mix up such shows with tried-and-true pieces that audiences know and love. Often the title alone is enough to sell tickets.

The Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, operated by Cincinnati Landmark Productions, gravitates toward audience-pleasing shows, a formula that clearly works for the theater. A few years ago, Covedale shows ran for three weeks; now they’re onstage for four because West Side Cincinnatians demanded more opportunities to attend. 

The Covedale’s current production, Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, is a perfect example. The two-act comedy began as an Off-Broadway hit in 1984, and it’s become a staple of theaters over the past three decades because it guarantees audiences an evening of laughter. 

The Foreigner is a well-oiled comic machine. Bashful Charlie Baker is in the dumps because his wife is ailing, so his cheerful friend “Froggy” LeSueur, a British demolition expert, coaxes him into traveling to a remote fishing lodge in rural Georgia to take his mind off his anxiety. But Charlie is painfully shy and hates to make conversation with strangers, so Froggy tells the lodge’s owner that he’s a “foreigner” who speaks no English. 

Since no one thinks he understands what they’re saying, Charlie becomes privy to various scandals and secrets discussed by others at the lodge. Behind-the-scenes shenanigans become complicated and in several ways dangerously threatening, since a two-faced minister and his redneck associates plan to take ownership of the lodge. Further complications arise because the minister’s fiancée is pregnant. Ellard, a dim-witted young man, teaches Charlie (who’s actually British) to speak English; Charlie has to make up a gibberish language and act as if he’s totally unfamiliar with customary social behavior.

The comic moments in The Foreigner come fast and furious, and audiences are never far from laugh-out-loud situations. Playing Charlie for Cincinnati Landmark Productions is veteran Rodger Pille, always a reliable performer in humorous roles. This production has been onstage since Oct. 20; it continues through Sunday — if tickets are still available.

Falcon Theater presents its shows at the Monmouth Theater, an intimate storefront in Newport, Ky. With less than 100 seats, it’s a much smaller operation than the 385-seat Covedale, but it still relies on strong ticket sales to make ends meet. It’s carved out its own unique niche in the local theater scene, mixing up tongue-in-cheek musical adaptations of horror films with more serious renditions of shows also rooted in film. Falcon has staged theatrical versions of well-known titles including In the Heat of the Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Last week it opened Dial M for Murder, a familiar title.

This one has been around even longer than The ForeignerDial M for Murder caught attention in 1954 as a thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. In fact, it started life as a play by British writer Frederick Knott; it was presented on BBC television in 1952 and then was staged in London and on Broadway later the same year. (In New York it had 552 performances in a 15-month run.)

Tony, an ex-tennis pro, wants to get rid of his wife Margot, a wealthy socialite, so he can get his hands on her inheritance to finance his own comfortable lifestyle. He discovers she’s had an affair with a crime novelist and that seems to offer a perfect opportunity to kill her. He finds a likely murderer and tries to blackmail him into murdering the errant wife. There’s a whole lot of deceit as the groundwork is laid for a perfect crime. But guess what? Things go awry. 

This show is a proven thriller. It’s frequently revived and has inspired several adaptations and renditions in other languages. It’s the kind of title that works well for Falcon Theater, bringing audiences into its intimate space and entertaining them. Dial M for Murder continues through Nov. 19.

These shows are theater staples that audiences have loved for years. If you want to be entertained, they’re a good bet.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]