“The Foreigner,” Hale Centre Theatre, through Feb. 1, $16-$27, 801-984-9000 or hct.org
WEST VALLEY CITY — A dramatic play relies on the development of realistic characters we identify with emotionally. Comedies are about ordinary people involved in humorous antics. A farce entertains through exaggerated characters placed in improbable situations.
“The Foreigner” fits squarely in the farce category. It has only one ambition: to make us laugh.
Playwright Larry Shue’s farce became a staple at regional theaters after its initial two-year Off Broadway run and is routinely staged at each of the Hale theaters. But truth be told, I had never seen a production.
I was pleasantly entertained at the silly-comic elements of Hale Centre Theatre’s “The Foreigner.”
Here’s the story: Stuck for the weekend at a rustic retreat, the profoundly introverted Charlie — who acknowledges that he’s “shatteringly, profoundly boring” — pretends not to speak or understand English in hopes of avoiding any personal interactions. Of course, just the opposite happens, as the various bumpkins open up around Charlie in ways they never would with someone who might actually realize what they were talking about.
Charlie gets a clear picture of what’s going on. Owen, a low-life county building inspector, plans to condemn the lodge, forcing Betty, the lodge’s elderly owner, to sell for next to nothing. Then, once his accomplice, the Rev. Lee, marries Catherine and gets his hands on her inheritance, they plan to turn the lodge into a meeting hall for the local Ku Klux Klan chapter.
“The Foreigner” starts slowly as Charlie’s apparent naivety and the various backwoods characters are established, but Act II swings into action and a series of hijinks.
During breakfast one morning, Charlie is given an English lesson by Ellard, the lodge’s dim-witted worker. The word “fork,” Ellard patiently explains, has two parts — “fo” and “werk.” Greg Larsen as Charlie and Chase Ramsey as Ellard make the scene one of the show’s standouts.
At another point, Charlie tells his friends a story in his “native tongue,” a stream of semi-intelligible gibberish that sounds like the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, though Betty (warmly played by Vicki Pugmire) thinks it’s about a tractor.
Another chief asset of the production is Daniel Fenton Anderson as Owen Musser, the play’s chief villain. Anderson plays the stereotypical hostile redneck with aplomb and is having a fine time immersing himself in the role while striking his delicate balance between menace and stupidity.
Ultimately, the two-act play is too insubstantial to justify its running time. But it is what it is: an unchallenging crowd-pleaser.
Note: Hale Centre recently added 4 p.m. performances on Friday, Jan. 17; Thursday, Jan. 23; Monday, Jan. 27; and Thursday, Jan. 30.