Larry Shue’s popular farce “The Foreigner” has tickled audiences for more than 30 years and, oddly enough, has come back around to an unintended relevancy. That fact doesn’t escape the people putting on the show this month at the Kavinoky and it was definitely appreciated by the audience.
Who would have thought that the threat of the KKK – which was almost an anachronism when the show debuted – would be more plausible in 2018?
Acceptance has always been an issue for the “foreigner” of the title. In reality, he’s a shy Englishman man named Charlie, self-described as “shatteringly, profoundly boring,” who is taking refuge from a bad marriage in a rural Georgia fishing lodge.
His friend Froggie (Patrick Moltane) has brought him there and gives him cover for his shyness by telling the owner that Charlie is from unspecified foreign land and speaks very little English, so would she please ask people not to try to talk to him.
Kevin Craig, who is able to turn blushing red on demand, plays Charlie with a nerdy freshness. Being something that he is not has never been Charlie’s forte, but oddly enough, he finds reason to embrace his new status as a person who is completely NOT him.
The “good” characters in the lodge are charmed by Charlie’s inability to understand what they say, while the “bad” people use it as an excuse to ridicule him and, to their detriment, to hatch nasty plots within his earshot.
It is all unbelievably silly, and gets even sillier as Charlie realizes that, unlike everything else about his unhappy life, here he is in a position to help.
All members of the cast play their parts to the hilt and beyond. Anne Gayley brings a ditsy joy to embattled lodge owner Betty Meeks, who finds in Charlie an outlet for the happiness that has eluded her lately. Aleks Malejs gives the unexpectedly pregnant but not yet married heiress Catherine the right balance of frustration and yearning.
Christopher Evans plays David, the two-faced preacher whose guiding philosophy is the Lord helps those that help themselves, with self-centered confidence, and David C. Mitchell, as the resident redneck, brings on the bigotry with brio. He’s the jerk you love to hate.
Dan Urtz as the slow-witted Ellard is a splendid match for Charlie, and he and Craig have some of the show’s best moments together.
When Charlie discovers that Ellard is getting a sort of “gaslight” treatment to make him feel even more dim than he is, he decides to counter the plot by showing how bright Ellard is – by having Ellard “teach” him English. Watching and listening to this is a hoot.
Director David Oliver keeps all his performers on the same level of goofiness, with no one more extreme than anyone else, and he has a good touch punching up both the giggles and the guffaws.
It all plays out on a beautiful, massive set designed by David King. Brian Cavanagh handled the lighting, complete with candles, table lamps and lightning, and Diane Almeter Jones is credited with the props and set dressing, which included mounted stag heads, a full bar and a set of collectible spoons.
Foreigners have been getting mixed reviews in the current political climate, but after more than three decades of residency on the world’s stages, this one is a keeper.
Goofy but socially relevant farce about a man pretending he can't speak English to avoid awkward social situations, and instead winding up in the middle of them. Presented by the Kavinoky Theatre at D'Youville College through May 20. For tickets, kavinokytheatre.com or 716-829-7668.