'The Foreigner' opens Friday at Corn Stock

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One might think that directing a show at a community theatre with a Broadway veteran in the cast would be a snap.

That isn't so, said Jeff Sloter, who is director of "The Foreigner," the next offering of Corn Stock Theatre's summer season under the tent at Upper Bradley Park.

"The Foreigner," written by Larry Shue, opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and runs through June 29. Tickets are on sale and are $12 for adults and $10 for students. They can be reserved by calling 676-2196 or online at www.cornstocktheatre.com.

"Directing this show has had unique challenges, especially in blending a season Broadway actor with community theatre actors," Sloter said. "In fact, the opportunity to meet that challenge was one of the reasons I agreed to direct the show; that, plus the strength of the show itself and I wanted to give back to the organization in its 60th anniversary season."

It had been nearly 25 years since Sloter last directed a show, with his job as a consultant, teaching presentation skills to corporate executives keeping him traveling a lot during the year. "I was ready. I wanted to do a show and this was offered," he said.

The Broadway performer in question is Steve Vinovich, a Peoria native who had been performing professionally in theatre, films and on television more than 40 years. He portrays Charlie, a Brit who poses as a foreigner who cannot speak or understand English simply because he doesn't want to have to talk with people at the Georgia fishing lodge where the play takes place.

Because of his ruse others at the fishing lodge talk freely in front of him. As a result Charlie overhears a plot to take the lodge away from its owner in a surreptitious manner and he figures out a way to foil the plot while not revealing his own fraud.

Others in the play are local theatre veterans, with one exception. Rusty Koll, who portrays Ellard, is making his Corn Stock debut. "Rusty has been a very nice surprise. Directors will be calling him after this," Sloter said.

Veterans in the cast include Doug Day as Froggy, Cindy Hoey as Betty, Kerri Rae as Catherine, Jeff Craig as David and Mark Bircher as Owen.

Sloter said the talent of this cast has made the challenge of blending them with a professional actor easier. "They've been asked to do things most community theatre actors don't do, including working with a shortened rehearsal schedule because of the availability of the guest artist and coming more prepared when those rehearsals started. They've also had to keep up with someone who is at the top of his profession. They should feel good about themselves because they have done it. I mean, these are people who are putting in their 40 at other jobs during the week and coming out here and doing this for fun. They have more than risen to the occasion," he said.

Another aspect about his cast is that some of them have directed shows themselves in the past. Because of that, "This really has been a nice collaborative effort where everybody brought a lot of experience to the table. Some really great ideas have come from it and the audience will be the beneficiary."

"The Foreigner" is very much a comedy — a farce, really — that focuses on the human condition, Sloter said. "Most of the characters in this show are struggling to find their place in life and the two guys who think they have it all figured out are really clueless. It's a great life lesson in that there can be joy in the struggle. It just so happens that Mr. Shue wrote it in a way that is hilarious. Not just funny, but hilarious," he said.

While in town, Vinovich will conduct acting classes at Corn Stock's Theatre Center, also in Upper Bradley Park, this Saturday and on June 29. If interested, contact the theatre for details.

"One of the best things about this experience has been working with Steve Vinovich. As I said in my directors notes in the program, he brought with him the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. And he's just a really nice guy and has been a joy to work with. I think we've all gained something from him," Sloter said.

Sloter also wrote in his program notes that the moral lesson of "The Foreigner" is that the world would be a far better place if we were all just kinder to one another. "That is a lesson that also is timeless," he said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).