Opening Nights: The Foreigner

The Foreigner

Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, 425-392-1942, $34–$65. Runs Wed.–Sun. (including matinees). Ends March 2. Then plays in Everett March 7–30.

I went to this production of The Foreigner, a 1984 comedy adored by summer-stock audiences across America, billed as being “both scrupulously clever and outrageously funny,” expecting—OK, praying for—an evening of laughter. Instead I witnessed missed opportunities more massive than the launch of Obamacare. It’s a wanton waste of resources, given Larry Shue’s reliably risible text and Brian Yorkey’s direction of a capable local cast.

In brief: Meek British proofreader Charlie (Erik Gratton) pretends not to speak English while vacationing at a Georgia fishing lodge, then wacky complications ensue among the red-state yokels. The show begins with a bang: loud sound and lighting effects that suggest a thunderstorm. Then I found myself distracted by the rain in the background. Eventually I wondered about the chandelier overhead—was it adorned with rifles? Why hang it so prominently above center stage? Would it crash down like in Phantom of the Opera?

Meanwhile, below, Yorkey’s half-dozen players are directed at less-than-farcical speed. The prolonged, stagy silences are more suited to Harold Pinter, an approach that ill fits the broad performances, which are more pleasure-seeking than Rob Ford. After a sluggish start, this two-act Foreigner moseys through the middle and stalls at the end.

Yet there are moments. Gratton and Anthony Lee Phillips (as Ellard, Charlie’s would-be English tutor) demonstrate bits of brilliance during their engaging educational encounters. An inspired mirror-mimicking scene between them brought down the house. Moments like these are why Yorkey, co-author of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Next to Normal, evidently still harbors his youthful love for The Foreigner.

Thirty years after it was written, however, The Foreigner’s humor-from-hicks formula hasn’t aged well. This revival is like a day spent watching bad television: You might not regret it, but nor will you be inspired by it. Yet years from now, when I think back to this production, I’ll remember that damn chandelier.

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