In Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner,” an Englishman named Charlie Baker — who has zero personality and a crippling terror of talking to strangers — finds himself stuck for a weekend in a backwoods Georgia fishing lodge. In order to save him from speaking to anyone, his Army pal S/Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur (the amiable Robert Pike Daniel) tells his friend Betty Meeks (Brenda Ballard), the endearingly addled lodge owner, that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn’t speak English. The plan works briefly, but by keeping his mouth shut and his ears open, Charlie nonetheless gets quickly sucked into all kinds of shenanigans when he overhears secret conversations or is spoken to by people who believe he doesn’t understand what’s being said.
It’s a wonderful setup for the outrageous nature of farce, which is what “Foreigner” is intended to be. But under Henry Polic II’s generally restrained direction, the production at Actors Co-op is more subdued and plays more as a likable comedy with only flashes of its farcical objectives.
That’s not to say this isn’t a funny show. It is — and is solidly cast, performed and produced. It’s just not directed as farce. This “Foreigner” stays more to the middle ground and doesn’t play to the extreme edges of comedy.
Aside from a few missed comic opportunities, the other most notable results are a generally slower pace, and a dimmer contrast between Charlie’s absurd situation and the darker B storyline involving greed, an inheritance, a shady minister and the Ku Klux Klan.
With the subtler, more realistic tone of this production, tall and lanky Ted Rooney’s best moments as Charlie come when he is listening, sometimes unobtrusively, to the discussions around him — as when David (Marc Elmer) turns the other side of his Christian cheek and shows his ugliness in conversations with redneck racist Owen (John Allsopp). Or when David’s fiancee, Catherine (Suzanne Friedline), begins to confide in him about her problems. Charlie’s sincerity shines through in those moments.
Most of the design elements are also high quality. Burris Jackes’ rustic set is a wonder of log cabin walls, comfy chairs and stuffed woodland creatures.
Birds twitter and crickets softly chirp via Peter Stenshoel’s atmospheric sound design. But Jeannie Burns Hardie’s lighting stumbles in a key scene in which the electricity is cut and there is no noticeable difference.
Now that’s carrying subtlety a bit too far.