Vicki Paris Goodman
In the case of the Long Beach Playhouse’s production of The Foreigner, I could talk about how the play’s flawed characters bring out the best in one another. Or the way their humanity and goodness inspire us to be better people. The play certainly entertains with its plentiful funny lines of dialogue. And when the good guys ultimately win out over the bad guys, the fact amounts to more than mere icing on the cake.
Playwright Larry Shue set his play in Georgia, affording himself the chance to infuse the action with loads of Southern quirkiness. Director Gigi Fusco Meese and her splendid cast make the most of it.
When British military man Froggy (Mitchell Nunn) brings his grieving friend Charlie (Greg Barnett) to a rural hunting lodge in the states for a few days of rest and relaxation, the self-deprecating Charlie complains that he is not up to the arduous task of socializing with the proprietor of the lodge nor her other guests. But by the time Charlie states his desire to be left alone, we already see the huge disconnect between the reality of Charlie’s clever and engaging personality and his view of himself as a terrible bore. In truth, Barnett makes Charlie maximally endearing.
In any case, to honor his friend’s wish, Froggy tells naïve innkeeper Betty (Phyllis M. Nofts) that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks no English.
Hence, Shue sets up the deliciously creative theatrical device that has other characters expressing their private thoughts in front of Charlie, a complete stranger, believing he understands nary a word of what they are saying. It also allows for Charlie to bear witness to a sinister plot on the part of the Ku Klux Klan to take over the lodge and make it their meeting place.
Playhouse veteran Skip Blas is in his finest form in the role of Klansman Owen, the story’s villain. His high-strung character antagonizes the others with intimidating bigotry. Blas contributes mightily to the play’s dramatic tension, as well as its humor.
Brianna Hill and Jeff Cheezum portray Catherine and David, a young couple planning to marry and maintain a Christian parish. Those plans go awry when Catherine finds out David is not the man she thinks he is. Cheezum does a wonderful job of alternating between decency and malevolence.
Arguably the most delightful character of the play is Catherine’s supposedly intellectually-challenged brother Ellard (James Paul Xavier), whose wildly successful efforts to teach Charlie to speak English warm the cockles of our hearts.
As the story plays out, Ellard gains self-confidence, Catherine becomes aware of her own competence and courage, Charlie discovers his ability to effortlessly become a beloved center of attention, and Betty sees those she cares about flourish as they save her property from a terrible fate.
Director Meese really nails this almost two-and-a-half-hour production, keeping the pace moving, taking full advantage of her cast members’ special talents, and timing the comedic dialogue perfectly. Sean Gray’s beautifully detailed set is fabulous.
The Foreigner continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through Oct. 26. General-admission tickets are $24; $21 for seniors; $14 for students/children. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available at lbplayhouse.org .