By Larry Shue
Directed by Jay Hopkins
Starring Keith Smith, Elizabeth Murff, William Hagaman
Jester Theater at The Garden Theatre, Winter Garden, FL
It takes some cojones to mount a KKK sitcom right here in the heart of the old Lynching Belt, but it makes for a damn funny show with an evil streak darker than blackstrap molasses. Mopy Charlie Barker (Smith) flees his nympho wife in the UK, she’s sleeping with everyone on the M-25 to prove a point: Charlie is dull. Charlie’s Special Forces sapper buddy “Froggy” LeSueur (Warriner) hauls him to a rural Georgia fishing lodge run by his old friend Betty Meeks (Murff.) A depressed Charlie doesn’t feel like talking so Froggy tells everyone Charlie doesn’t speak English. Soon Charlie is up to his neck in intrigue: Reverend Lee (Brett Waldon) plots to buy the property cheap as he courts Betty’s daughter Catherine (Gemma Fearn) and Owen Messer (Don Fowler) rallies the local Klan to do what the Klan does best: bully anyone they can outnumber. It falls to simple minded Eland (William Hagaman) to save the day by leveraging Charlie’s fakey accented speech against Messer’s depressed IQ.
Like all good farces, the first act sets things up and the second knocks them down. Murff is great as the acidic but loving little old lady, Warriner’s cheery accent recalls Mr. Balowski from “The Young Ones,” and Waldon’s preacher man looks like he’s going to end up preaching from prison like St Paul, but not necessarily with God on his side. Fowler looks like he smells of bait and stale beer, but his barely hidden violence is always near the surface and he’s the sort of guy who only sits in chairs backwards. While everyone oozes gags, the Charlie – Ellard axis pushes this show from Funny to Jay Hopkins Funny. Ellard simple mindedly “teaches” Charlie his native tongue in shockingly short time; only a science fiction robot could pick up the local lingo this quickly. Ellard isn’t smart, but sometimes smart isn’t what you need to defeat evil. Smith ignores Owens’s abuse and charms Betty and the audience with a smile and a wink. But what makes all this an exceptional comedy is the gun toting KKK invasion. This is a dark, scary moment and at some point you think “Hey! This isn’t funny at all!” But once we’re though that Valley of Heavy Handed Plot Points, there a happy ending and everyone get their just dessert. On one level this is a silly door slamming farce, but there’s some real heart behind the story and ‘The Foreigner” is a comedy that makes you think. Happily, it had a surprising full house on opening night, and I advise you get out to see it early, I suspect it might sell out, and it’s worth the drive to the western sprawl of Orange County.
For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org
For more information on Jester Theater Company, please visit www.gardentheatre.org