Riding a wave of success after Sweeney Todd and King Richard III, Idaho Shakespeare Festival gambled with its final play of the season, Larry Shue's The Foreigner (which opened Saturday, Sept. 7). Its mix of sitcom-esque humor and uneven tone makes for an inconsistent, though frequently hilarious, theater experience.
The Foreigner is set in rural Georgia, where Betty Meeks (Lynn Allison) runs a hunting lodge frequented by British demolitions specialist "Froggy" LeSueur (Dudley Swetland), who has brought along with him a guest, the self-conscious cuckold Charlie Baker (Gordon Reinhart). To protect Charlie's privacy and alleviate his social anxiety, Froggy tells the other guests that Charlie doesn't speak English; but instead of ensuring Charlie's peace of mind, the ruse makes him the center of attention. To Charlie's surprise, he begins to like his role.
This is the state of affairs for most of The Foreigner. Reinhart gleefully plays the bemused Brit, establishing convincing connections to the other characters, especially Ellard Simms (Steve Cardamone), a caretaker at the lodge thought to be dim-witted. Charlie and Ellard's friendship is charming and dynamic, with Ellard proving to be more competent than he lets on, and Charlie discovering he's less boring than he thinks.
A cascade of gags follows, and some of them are funny. Betty believes she can communicate with Charlie by shouting at him. The pregnant heiress Catherine Simms (Georgina Stoyles) equates his silence with him being a good listener. No one looks askance at Charlie's rapid language learning or his selective understanding.
The urgency of the play rests on the fact that property inspector Owen Musser (Justin Ness) has condemned the fishing lodge and is secretly conspiring with local preacher and Catherine's fiancee, Rev. David Lee (Richard Klautsch), to bulldoze the lodge to make way for the headquarters of a paramilitary organization reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan.
Owen and David conspire openly before Charlie, and it's up to him to foil their plot without revealing his fraudulence. A frustrated Owen musters his troops, culminating in the lodge's invasion by sauced hooligans in camouflage and hoods looking to vent their rage on Charlie. The sudden threat of violence turns the play from a goofy yuk-fest into a scene of potential tragedy, upending the play's lighthearted reality.
That at the end of the play the audience was thrust out of its seats for a standing ovation is a testament to the quality of ISF's production. With The Foreigner, ISF has made gold from dross, providing you can ignore the blemishes.