ARLINGTON Larry Shue’s comedy The Foreigner was corny and out-of-date when it was written in the 1980s. This show is so dumb that it can shave IQ points off an audience faster than a Jersey Shore marathon.
But that has never prevented this farce, which opened in a special “reunion” production at Theatre Arlington on Friday, from being one of the most popular shows in the vast community theater repertoire. And this particular staging, which brings the presenting company’s former artistic director B.J. Cleveland back for an encore, promises to be a particular success.
The Foreigner is an absurd tale about a shy, socially and emotionally beleaguered Brit, Charlie (Cleveland), who tags along with an old army buddy, Froggie (Kenny Fudge), to the backwoods of Georgia, where the still-active-duty friend does demolitions workshops for American troops.
The pair returns to a country inn where Froggie is an eagerly awaited, annual guest. To shield the awkward and anxious Charlie from social contact while staying at the inn, it is decided that he will pretend to be a visitor from another land who does not speak English.
But surprisingly, this ruse results in Charlie becoming the sounding board for all the deepest secrets of the house, including owner Betty Meeks’ (Shirley Orr) worries about losing the inn and land; Catherine’s (Cindy Honeycutt) concerns about her pregnancy and her preacher husband, David (Rodney Honeycutt); the misdeeds perpetrated against the well-meaning but dim-witted Ellard (Tyler Martin); and the grotesque evil of hulking Ku Klux Klansman Owen (Steven D. Morris).
The weight of all this knowledge presses Charlie’s subterfuge to the breaking point. But with a few clever tricks of their own, Charlie and his newfound allies find a way to rally against the dark forces threatening the good people of the inn.
This highly predictable (and often downright silly) show has been a favorite with audiences from its inception because its broadly drawn characters are so endearing. When this is done well, as it certainly is here, it is impossible not to root for these idiots and exalt in every hard-won victory they score.
This production, which brings back five actors who have previously done this show at Theatre Arlington, takes full advantage of all of this work’s strongest points.
Cleveland, who played Ellard in the 2000 production at Theatre Arlington, leads the charge here as the title character. Ageless and impossibly rubber-faced, the widely known and loved actor embraces his ridiculously comic character with exactly the unfettered zeal his many fans would expect.
Martin, as Ellard, is also a standout. His character has a lot to keep up with for an actor, but Martin does a good job of staying consistent in his portrayal. And some of his exchanges with Cleveland are priceless.
Morris is exceptionally menacing as the dastardly Owen. Cindy Honeycutt plays her character on too much of a single note in the first act but balances things better in the second. Orr, Fudge and Rodney Honeycutt are solid enough in their roles.
Director Tony Arangio does a fine job of staging the action as it plays out across Tony Curtis’ well-designed set. The only quibbles are that some of the physical comedy is milked a bit too much and that Arangio does not do enough to suggest a growing romantic connection between Charlie and Catherine as the show progresses.
But about the only real knock on this show is its length, which is much too long at two hours and 35 minutes. But that is less the fault of the production than the playwright who, sadly, died in plane crash in 1985 just when he was beginning to enjoy tremendous success with this play and his other community theater favorite, The Nerd.
There is one final, but very important, note to make about this production. Rather than being just another play in the schedule, this production is a celebration of both this show and this reunited cast. And the public response has been tremendous. Few tickets remain.
At Friday’s opening night, the cast seemed to be noticeably buoyed by that vote of confidence. This show is always fun. But this production has a special glow about it. All those taking part, as well as those who get to see it, will be talking about it for some time to come.