"The Foreigner" is not a great comedy, but it is occasionally diverting--at least in the warmer, more accomplished first act.
The plot of Larry Shue's play, currently staged by the Brea Theatre League, finds the unnaturally shy Charlie Baker visiting a fishing lodge in backwater Georgia for a dose of R&R. Trouble is, Charlie, who has left an adulterous wife behind in his native England, didn't count on other people being at the lodge as well.
The thought of having to talk to strangers puts Charlie in a dither. With his friend Froggy's help, Charlie decides to masquerade as a foreigner who doesn't speak English. He smiles at everybody in an insanely ingratiating manner, and they, in turn, tell him their secrets, bend over to make him comfortable and, all in all, accept this little nobody deep into their lives.
Charlie, who earlier complains to Froggy that he may be boring, a man without a backbone or a personality, begins to develop both and becomes the happiest man around. Not only does he help defuse a plan to bilk the lodge owner out of her property, but he stops an ill-conceived marriage and helps the local dimwit come out of his shell. He even takes on the Ku Klux Klan!
This is obviously farcical stuff, full of broad gestures and even broader exposition and dialogue. It can all get pretty tiring, especially when the second act starts trundling along. But to its credit, the first act, where Shue sets up the premise and introduces the personalities, does have its nice moments.
The best has to be the first Chaplinesque communication between Charlie and lodge resident Ellard Simms over breakfast. Ellard, who everybody assumes is hopelessly stupid, engages in a pantomime with Charlie that seals a relationship between the two. It leads to English lessons and a new thoughtfulness on Ellard's part. The scene is slapstick all the way, but it also has a sympathetic human dimension that helps us get into both characters.
Director Gary Krinke makes the most of the scene, as he does the entire first half. The pacing is even and things bustle along. However, the script degenerates after intermission, and Krinke finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He keeps up the vigor but never really gets out.
The cast isn't bad. Bob Sessions' Charlie is about as insecure as you can get; he's also likable, and it's easy to forgive him for deceiving all these nice people.
As Ellard, Matthew Lyn is noisy to the point of annoyance, but he is endearing as well. Rick Simpson's David, the scoundrel here, is appropriately misleading and exploitative, and Dana Perez's Catherine, Ellard's sister and David's fiancee, is certainly hard-edged, maybe a little too much so. As Froggy, Jim Felix appears to be the most comfortable actor on stage, and Joanne Underwood's lodge owner is correctly addlepated.
"The Foreigner" requires a rustic set, and Jan Cranston's is ideal, down to the wood and stone detailing, the old Coke machine in the corner and the tacky postcards stapled against a wall.
A Brea Theatre League production of Larry Shue's comedy. Directed by Gary Krinke. With Jim Felix, Bob Sessions, Joanne Underwood, Rick Simpson, Kenneth Kindred, Matthew Lyn and Dana Perez. Set by Jan Cranston. Lighting by Emory Johnson. Costumes by Marci McDaniels. Plays through June 24. Curtain Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Drive, Brea. Tickets: $8.50 to $10. (714) 524-6653.