The late Larry Shue’s early ’80s farce has become a favorite among community theater groups, for which it has many attractive qualities — one set, easy costumes, a small cast and an opportunity to use both British and Southern accents. Not to mention that the tightly constructed play may be the modern successor to the likes of “You Can’t Take It With You” and “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Performed correctly, Shue’s script can keep an audience in near-constant laughter. It’s a pleasure to see this professional production at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Despondent at events back home in England, Charlie Baker accepts his friend “Froggy” LeSueur’s invitation to spend a few days in rural Georgia. Woefully shy , Baker dreads having to interact with his host and fellow guests at Betty Meeks’ fishing lodge. In a burst of inspiration, LeSueur tells proprietor Meeks that Baker is a “foreigner,” unable to speak or comprehend English.
It doesn’t quite work out the way LeSueur had expected: Meeks, having never seen a “foreigner” before, is intensely curious in a friendly way; Owen Musser, a minor functionary in local government, isn’t very friendly at all.
And then there’s fundamentalist Rev. David Marshall Lee and his fiancee and Simms’ younger brother, Ellard. With all the goings-on, Baker doesn’t get a bit of rest. And along the way, he hears some secrets revealed in the belief that he can’t understand what’s being said.
Director Tom Alderman has assembled a top-notch cast with no letdowns among the supporting players, each of whom gets at least one major opportunity in the spotlight (though one character could be played a little less sinister in the beginning).
That said, the play belongs to whoever plays hapless Charlie Baker, and it’shard to imagine that a performance could be more definitive than that here by Steve Vinovich.
He doesn’t drop character for an instant, his control of the gibberish that constitutes Charlie’s “language” is strong, and the way he handles the continued strengthening of Charlie’s character is inspiring — the scene in which Charlie tells a lengthy anecdote in Charlie-speak is a Great Theatrical Moment.
Karen Schultz has designed an impressive set, J.A. Reedquist’s lighting is properly atmospheric when such is demanded and Ken Hunkovsky has come up with some imaginative sound effects.
When Shue died in a 1985 air crash, he had just completed a screenplay for “The Foreigner.” Perhaps this high-profile production will expedite its development.