INDEPENDENCE —When Charlie Baker takes his quest to be left alone to the extreme — by pretending he doesn’t understand or speak English — he is privy to a lot of private conversations.
Played by Max Lydum, Charlie is an anxious, nervous British man who is taking a holiday at a hunting lodge in the South.
He encounters good and bad in his escape from his real life, a dead-end job and a wife who doesn’t love him.
The result is hilarious in “The Foreigner,” presented by Central High School’s performing arts department tonight through Saturday. Curtain is at 7 p.m. each night.
“The Foreigner” is Lydum’s first time in a play at Central, and he said the character Charlie proved challenging for a number of reasons.
“I had to go out of my natural tendency to be confident,” he said. “(Charlie is) anxious, nervous. I had to find empathy for those emotions.”
On top of that, Charlie is British and pretending to not speak any English, so Lydum has to be able to maintain two accents — British and a vague, sort of Russian or Eastern European accent.
“Holding up those two accents at the same time is tough,” Lydum said. “If I reveal my Britishness, it ruins the whole thing.”
The play holds challenges for everyone in the cast and on the crew.
Taylor Ashton is used to playing the head-strong, go-getter role, but is double cast as Betty, the old woman who owns the hunting lodge.
“Having to walk around slowly, wear glasses on my nose,” said Ashton, who has a bounce and energy inherent to a Central cheerleader, which she is offstage.
The bad guy, Owen Musser, is played by a normally sweet, smiling Lucas Castanon.
“It’s a little out of my comfort zone,” he said about playing a villain. “I have a hard time not smiling or laughing at the lines.”
To find inspiration for the dark side of the play, Castanon watched films and combined aspects from other villains into his character.
“It was a big challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it,” Castanon said, smiling.
The play is the work of students in a drama class, and student involvement spans beyond the stage.
Many students have bigger roles offstage, learning the ropes of lighting, sound, set design and building, and stage management.
Phoenix Chambers has been in the spotlight, but for “The Foreigner,” she’s the person most of the cast likes the least: the dramaturge.
“I write down every line they got wrong,” she said. “Make sure people are on book.”
Her role goes further, as she is in charge of educating the actors about the history surrounding the play, which takes place in the 1980s in Georgia.
The play has some language — two curse words, to be precise — and potentially sensitive material — Castanon’s character Owen is leader of the local Klu Klux Klan.
Drama teacher and play producer Jeff Witt said it may not be suitable for all children.
But the play has merits. Lydum said he likes that the show expresses ideologies of togetherness, inclusiveness and antidiscrimination.
Off to the Theater
What: Central High School’s production of “The Foreigner,” by Larry Shue.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday (today) through Saturday.
Where: Central High School auditorium, 1530 Monmouth St., Independence.
Admission: $8 for adults, $5 for students with ID.
Of note: The play’s female roles are double cast, which means different actors will be playing the two female roles. Wednesday and Friday will feature different stars than Thursday and Saturday.