Melbourne Civic Theatre relives classic comedy with its deliciously funny production of Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner.”
This laugh riot delights throughout with the most drop-dead hysterical cast evoking the best ofJerry Lewis, Carol Burnett, Sid Caesar, Red Skelton…all the best rolled into one.
The storyline revolves around Charlie Baker, an English proof reader for science fiction magazines. A dullard, indeed, who fears conversing with others, Charlie wonders out loud “what it is like to acquire a personality.”
Charlie’s friend, a British military man named Froggy LeSueur (a most likeable Adrian Cahill), brings him to a favorite get-away spot — a fishing lodge in rural Georgia. With Charlie conveniently upstairs settling into his room, Froggy speaks with lodge owner Betty and learns that all she ever wanted in life was to travel and meet a foreigner. Knowing that Charlie doesn’t want to talk and that Betty wants to meet a foreigner, Froggy kick starts the action by saying Charlie does not speak English.
This simple plot point is all that’s needed for Shue to create his comic dialogue and action. And, it’s all that’s needed for MCT director Peg Girard and her cast to bring tears of laughter to the audience.
As Charlie, Chandler McRee shows comedy is more than funny lines. He reveals a mastery at timing, nuanced expression and bigger than life action. In one of the funniest scenes in the play, Mr. McRee uses only gibberish to tell a long, involved story. Silly walks, playful gags, self-deprecating sweetness — this is the type of stuff which made Tim Conway famous.
As Ellard, the supposed half-wit bound to inherit a small fortune, Alfie Silva is funnier than you’ve ever seen him. He throws away the handsome leading man personna he’s carved out for himself and instead goes the route of stereotyped back woods hick. Buck-teethed, slouching, hair smoothed down over his forehead, Mr. Silva shows us something new — a bent for broad physical comedy. Indeed, with his Dean Martin portrayal coming up, if he were to clone himself, he could do a Martin and Lewis schtick.
Nellie Brannan draws on every dipthong in her own Georgia past for her take on sweet Betty Meeks, so beleaguered by the shenanigans of a couple of bad guys who want to take over her land. Ms. Brannan is a welcome return to MCT’s stage. After a nearly two-decade hiatus, she returned last season in “Drowsy Chaperone.” Now she’s back again and the audience couldn’t be happier as she brings such fun to loveable, grandmotherly Betty.
Amy Pastoor finds the sweet spot for former debutante, Catherine. The “straight man” in the comedy, she has fallen in love with wolf in sheep’s clothing, Rev. David Marshall Lee, played very well indeed by Glen Krasny, who we hope to see more of on MCT’s stage.
Steve Costner rightfully allows his character, Owen Musser, to be a thoroughly despicable backwoods bully, threatening everyone around him. As a “heavy,” this is Mr. Costner’s strongest work yet.
Big kudos to Caroline Osborne who does her best scenic design yet. Her recreation of a fish camp, complete with log cabin walls, an upstairs, a basement, a fireplace and game trophies on the wall, amazes in the small confines of this 93-seat theater. She adds many nice offstage touches, including trees waving in a storm.
Lighting designer Alan Selby and sound designer Wendy Reader also create good offstage moments, especially toward the climax of the play.
MCT’s production of “The Foreigner” stays funny, entertaining, well done and on the fast track to selling out. Best get those tickets now.
BTW: Born in 1946, playwright Larry Shue no doubt was influenced by the golden age of television comedy. His only other popular play was “The Nerd.” They were both originally produced at Milwaukee Rep. An actor, Mr. Shue was 39 and about to have his Broadway debut in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” when he died in an airplane crash (source, chicagotribune.com).
SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Foreigner” runs through Nov. 18. Curtain is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. NB: The only show Sat., Oct. 27 begins 2 p.m. (no evening show). Tickets are $25 general, $23 students, military and seniors. MCT performs at 817 E. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne. Call 321-723-6935 or visit www.mymct.org.