As the foundation for its laughter The Foreigner, now at Cincinnati Playhouse, asks audiences to accept a lulu of a gimmick. Many comedies do.
Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors has identical twin businessmen employing identical twin servants. Mary Chase’s Harvey has audiences believing in an invisible white rabbit.
The problem with gimmicks is that once they’re established, the playwright must create characters and situations so funny and so convincing that they transcend the gimmickry. Shakespeare and Chase managed. Foreigner playwright Larry Shue is only intermittently successful — mostly in Act Two.
Charlie, a painfully shy, down-in-the-dumps Englishman (John Scherer) checks into a down-at-the-heels Georgia fishing lodge to stew about his failing marriage.
He doesn’t want to talk to anyone, so he pretends not to speak English. But he listens a lot. While not talking, he learns of the financial woes of the landlady (Darrie Lawrence), the romantic travails of a pretty young niece (Nell Geisslinger) and evil schemes hatched by a humbug preacher (Ted Deasy) and a racist (Remi Sandri). So he starts manipulating events — sparking happy outcomes and, later in the play, gales of laughter. His “telling” of the story of Red Riding Hood in outrageous doubletalk and gesture is genuinely hysterical.
In an interview shortly before he died in a plane crash in 1985, Shue said his Foreigner expressed “his own dream that the wishy-washy nice guy will emerge triumphant.” That happens, but there are some doldrums getting there.
Playhouse production values are expectedly sleek, particularly Paul Shortt’s sprawling set. Direction by Kenneth Albers is crisp. Most performances are good. Newcomer Raymond McAnally is sly and on target as a waysmarter-than-he-seems handyman. He ignites the play’s funniest sequence when he thinks he’s teaching Charlie to read. Sandri, who was a stitch in The Mystery of Irma Vep, sacrifices some comprehension to accent as the racist.
THE FOREIGNER, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through April 10. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.