The Foreigner

“The Foreigner” is performed fairly often by community theater groups, as it currently is by the Pleasant Grove Players, and with good reason: It’s terribly funny.

Set in a hotel lodge in rural Georgia, the play brings us Charlie Baker (Thane Bingham), a terribly shy man who has to stay there a few days while his friend Froggy (DeShawn Smith) is out on Army maneuvers.

He’s terrified of having to interact with the other visitors, so Froggy tells the sweet old innkeeper, Betty (Donna Bingham), that Charlie doesn’t speak any English. This keeps him from having to talk to anyone, and allows him some peace and quiet.

Except what it really means is that no one’s afraid to talk in front of him, thus inadvertently revealing their plots and schemes. By play’s end, “foreigner” Charlie has developed a personality, helped everyone else feel better about themselves, and saved the lodge from evil Klansmen (really!).

The ensemble cast is altogether pretty strong, though Thane Bingham is much more believable as a foreigner than he is as the regular Charlie. Dustin Harding stands out as young Ellard Simms, a dim kid whom Charlie helps to feel smart. Harding has an excellent sense of mad energy, bouncing around like a pro without seeming like a clown.

Dennis Purdie is also very funny as racist Owen Musser, a tightly wound idiot.

The production missteps just a little in not fully exploring the potential in Charlie’s dealings with the others. The play is written for him to help Betty feel like more than just a useless old lady; for him to help Ellard have confidence in his own intelligence; and for him to help Ellard’s sister Catherine (Tracy Fielding) boost her self-esteem. All of that happens here, but only if you pay close attention. In a few key places, the lines are spoken, but the “moment” is missed.

Still, the show is laugh-out-loud funny, particularly as Charlie begins to use his “foreignness” to his advantage, mocking the stupid and helping the meek. There is much community theater in Utah County, and the Pleasant Grove Players are often overlooked. If this show is any indication, they deserve a little more attention.

I had no idea the Pleasant Grove Players existed until I heard about this show. I assumed they were new, then did some checking and found out they'd been around 10 years. Not to avoid responsibility, but I'm going to have to blame their publicity people for the fact that I reviewed theater in Utah County for 2 1/2 years before I ever heard of the Pleasant Grove Players.