The Foreigner

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“The Foreigner,” that farcical community-theater favorite, is back for another go-round at Hale Center Theater Orem. If it’s your sixth time to see this show, you’ll be glad to know it’s nearly as funny as the first time. If it’s your first time … well, I don’t know what that’s like, because this was my sixth time.

British military guy Froggy LeSueur (Dave Hanson, also director) is visiting Georgia to do some maneuvers with the Yanks. He’s brought along Charlie (Mike Wisland), his painfully shy cuckold friend who needs a few days’ vacation after dealing with his wife’s hospitalization.

Froggy puts Charlie in the hands of old widow Betty Meeks (Kathy Llewellyn), a down-home gal who owns a rural fishing lodge and delights in the simple life. Knowing his friend is terrified at having to communicate with strangers for three days, Froggy tells Betty that Charlie is from an exotic country and doesn’t speak any English. To try talking to him would only embarrass him, so it’s best not to try, he says.

And there’s your comic conceit: people think a man can’t understand them, so they’re not afraid to have private conversations in his presence. Soon all the lodge’s inhabitants have bared their souls to Charlie and the audience: Former debutante and current basket case Catherine Simms (Marydee Potter) is pregnant by her fiance, the slick Reverend David Marshall Lee (Mitch Hall; double-cast with John Lundwall). David, meanwhile, is conspiring to make Catherine’s doltish brother Ellard (Matt Clayton) seem dumber than he is. David’s redneck pal Owen Musser (Larson Holyoak) is up to no good, too, and is especially upset at the presence of a “foreigner.” For dark and sinister reasons, David and Owen are bent on getting a hold of Betty’s property and fishing lodge.

It’s a fine situation indeed, exploited to all its great comic potential. Ellard gets to feel smart by “teaching” English words to Charlie, and Charlie gets to use his previously untapped ingenuity to help good triumph and make evil look foolish.

The Hale Center isn’t double-casting its comedies these days, and may the saints be praised for it. Single-casting allows for more rehearsal time and helps the cast work together as a unit — absolutely essential in a comedy. It shows in the performances.

This ensemble is very strong, overall. Mitch Hall is so unctuous and smarmy as Reverend David that you know he’s either a snake in the grass or about to be summoned directly to heaven. Kathy Llewellyn is sweet as Betty, though a bit over-the-top at times; no matter how dim you are, you wouldn’t get literally AN INCH AWAY from a foreigner’s face when you yell to help him understand English.

The biggest laughs are earned by Matt Clayton, who proves that the funniest role in this play is not Charlie, but Ellard. Clayton plays him as a well-meaning simpleton, energetic but not hyper, and extremely entertaining to watch. Which accurately describes the show as a whole, in fact.

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