It’s a crazy mix of zany characters. Some are Southern, some are British, and all of them have eccentricities that spread laughter through the audience like buckshot.
The Foreigner, which opened Friday night at the Little Theatre, is one of playwright Larry Shue’s best known works.
Laughs are guaranteed.
This is a farce, and as such, relies on sight gags, exaggerated gestures and an array of caricatures. The characters all show up at the same small rural hunting lodge in Georgia, flaunting their particular version of what life is all about.
Most of them are looking for their own identities. Two of them are trying to conceal who they really are.
What a cast of characters. Just look at their bios:
Betty is an older widow who owns the lodge and needs to feel young again. Froggie hails from England and is a bomb specialist who has come to the area once again to teach bomb tactics at a nearby military base. Charlie is his friend from England who is so bashful that he invents a language (and persona) to be able to deal with the other guests while Froggie is away. David, a guest, is a minister whose niceness is a front for theft. Catharine, a debutante, is pregnant, wealthy and set to marry David, but naturally they stay in separate rooms. Ellard is her slow-witted brother, and Owen is a local whose hood-wearing buddies back his shenanigans with David.
What results can’t adequately be translated to print.
When Betty says she sees “a tractor” in the story that Charlie has just made up and spouted off in gibberish, the audience falls apart.
When Charlie re-enacts Frankenstein to scare the bully, Owen, he can – because in real life Charlie’s a proofreader for a science-fiction magazine.
Both scenes bring on laughs because the play evolves around a tight plot.
Characters are so fully drawn by the actors that when any of them does deliver a line, it makes perfect sense.
The Foreigner is an enormously popular work by Shue.
Having premiered in the early ’80s, its reception recalled his earlier work, The Nerd.
But this play at the Little Theatre wouldn’t necessarily come off without the slapstick acuity of director Stan Bernstein.
Bernstein, a prolific local actor and director, seems to have found his own passion for theater. He knows how to deliver lines, he knows pacing, and fortunately, with his guidance, his actors do, too.
Good ensemble acting keeps the whole show going, but special bows go to Charlie, Froggie, Betty and Ellard.
Chad Edwards, who teaches theater arts at Mount Tabor High School, almost steals the show. His rendition of the hapless hero who eventually finds his own voice relies on a full array of body movements, facial expressions and timing. Edwards delivers on all counts.
Pat Shumate as Betty is as close to the real thing as the lovable Southern woman who wants to believe and has an active imagination to make just about anything plausible.
Mikey Wiseman as Froggie is a swaggering foil to Charlie’s ineptness, and Mark March as the slow-witted Ellard makes floundering look delightful.
■ The Foreigner will be presented by The Little Theatre of Winston-Salem through next Sunday. Performances are at 2 p.m. today and next Sunday; and 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $14 for students with ID. The Arts Council Theatre, 610 Coliseum Drive, Winston-Salem. Call 336-725-4001.