Although "The Foreigner" by Larry Shue is an extraordinarily funny show, it isn't a cakewalk for the company putting it on. Full of fast cues, swift action and reaction, and lightning response on the part of performers, the farce is a mine field that can lay bare awkward acting and below-par ability.
The work is physical and lingual at the same time, including a zany fork, knife and glass-on-the-head pas de deux between an addled boy and a non-English-speaking English speaker, and a loony language lesson highlighted by the phrase "blasnee blasnee."
Frequently, it is hard to understand and that's really the point of this play about words spoken and the difficulties of finding out what they really mean. Little Theatre of Alexandria does an admirable job, using on-target actors and a well-done set, of helping the audience through the complexities of these enjoyable few hours in the theater, except for a few miscastings and an occasional slowness.
Charlie Baker (Michael Hamburg) is a schlumpish nerd from Britain, brought for a few days of rest and relaxation to Betty Meeks' Fishing Lodge Resort in Tilghman County, Ga., by his extroverted, former Army buddy Froggy LeSueur (Robert Carroll). Charlie is a walking sigh, shoulders bowed and frown frozen. He admits he has no personality and no wit and is such a wimp that his now ill wife has cheated on him 23 times (he knows because she told him).
He also is terminally shy and insists that no one talk to him. At one point he quips whiningly, "I hate conversation, knowing in another moment that it's my turn again." So Froggy, played with great gusto by Carroll, in a glint of mischievous inspiration, tells the dispirited inhabitants of the lodge that Charlie is a "foreigner" and therefore speaks no English.
And that's where the play takes off. Charlie becomes the delight of the tired old Meeks (Cheryl Zales), the confessor of the bored and frustrated debutante Catherine Simms (Rhonda Hill), the amazing student of a retarded boy Ellard Simms (Bruce Alan Rauscher) and the bane of a conniving preacher, the Rev. David Marshall Lee (Christopher O'Callaghan), and his racist crony Owen Musser (Donald Neal). The rest is almost incidental and concerns a plot by the Ku Klux Klan to take over the lodge for a headquarters.
The acting all around is sharp. Hamburg convincingly plays the 98-pound weakling-turned-hero with unexpected wit. His storytelling in his made-up foreign language is a tongue and body twisting tour de force.
Both O'Callaghan and Neal are perfectly slimy as the villains -- O'Callaghan has menacing good looks and a perfect phony sweetness and Neal plays his fat slob bigot with belches and brutishness.
Rauscher is sweetly comic as he learns he's not so dumb after all. The only lesser performances are given by the two women. Hill is too whiny to be attractive and Zales too tall, thin and overly cornpone to be convincing as an old hick.
The direction by Rosemary Hartman is light enough -- she lets the words and actors rule, though in places she needs to tighten up the pace. Laron Hyde's set is convincingly tacky and solidly designed. The lighting by Pat Durako is fine -- as straightforward as the set.
Perhaps the best you can say about "The Foreigner," as performed by the Little Theatre, is that you will laugh a lot. But in those laughs you also can learn something, even if it's just that "blasnee blasnee" means that everything's great.
The play runs through Sept. 26. The Little Theatre of Alexandria is located at 600 Wolfe St. in Alexandria and tickets cost $9 Fridays and Saturdays and $7 Thursdays and Sunday. Curtain is 8:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. The box office phone is 683-0496.