Larry Shue’s play The Foreigner has been a popular staple of community theaters for nearly 30 years. Good comedies are hard to come by, especially ones that stand the test of time. Shue, who had only written two full length plays prior to this, died in a plane crash before he could finish his next play. He showed potential as a master of comedy, with a long career ahead.
Hendersonville Community Theatre’s production, under Beth Bristol’s direction, is refreshing. The show is presented as a period piece set in the 1980s, yet, given current events (politicization of immigrants and the views of some Americans when it comes to foreigners), there are powerful moments that feel ripped from the headlines. It gives the show an undercurrent that helps the sweetness and humor also serve as social commentary.
In the story, a bookish Englishman, Charlie, is brought to rural Georgia for a getaway. His promiscuous wife has been caught in yet another in a staggering series of affairs. Jonathon Forrester is great as a nervous man, who must find his inner courage. Froggy, Charlie’s best friend, is a British Commando and bomb expert who is there to train American troops at a nearby base. When Charlie reveals his anxiety about being left in a fishing lodge full of strangers, Henry Styron’s Froggy concocts a story that Charlie is an exotic foreigner who doesn’t speak English, in hopes that everyone will simply leave him alone.
The down-home, Southern folk who inhabit the lodge take it upon themselves to help Charlie learn English and teach him about local culture, rather than leave him be. At first, Charlie is put off by it, but once he accidentally hears a series of conversations and secrets, he realizes that he must go along with the ruse in order not to offend the others.
Betty, the widowed inn keeper, is on the verge of selling the place and giving up on life, but finds inspiration in her exotic boarder. A pregnant young heiress named Catherine (played by Victoria Lamberth) confides in Charlie about her impending marriage to local Reverend David (played by Tate Albert ), who is also trying to wheel and deal with a local unsavory character named Owen, who has ties to the Ku Klux Klan. That connection forms the show’s central conflict when Owen takes an interest in Charlie’s presence. Charlie, having overheard too much, realizes that a plot is underway to condemn the property and make off with Catherine’s inheritance.
Charlene Lightfoot Spinks is sweet as Betty. Stand-out performances include Bryan Byrd as a “make America great again” Klansman. He is convincing as a dullard redneck, inhabiting the role with a glint of maniacal glee in his eyes the whole time. The major scene stealer is Clay Gaitskill, who plays Catherine’s brother Ellard — essentially the village idiot. His performance is energetic and fearless.
The Foreigner is a heart-warming gem of a play that leaves the audience laughing and smiling, glad for the time spent with these wonderfully drawn characters.
WHAT: The Foreigner by Larry Shue
WHERE: Hendersonville Community Theatre, 229 S. Washington St., Hendersonville. hendersonvillelittletheater.org
WHEN: Through March 5, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. $12-$22