If you don't think too hard, there's plenty of fun in The Foreigner

THE FOREIGNER Through July 17 Porthouse Theatre 1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls 330-929-4416 Tickets: $13-$36 dept.kent.edu/theatre/porthouse

If you're looking for a comedy that doesn't require you to fire up a single synapse, The Foreigner — now playing at Porthouse Theatre — is right up your lazy-brained alley. Filled with broad characters and unrealistic situations, Larry Shue's concoction is a freeform farce waiting for actors to activate the laugh machine.

And the Porthouse players, under the direction of Rohn Thomas, do their jobs quite well, for the most part. Once you make your way past serial incredulities in the script (stop thinking, brain, stop thinking!), the show's rather clever premise leads to more than a few moments of hilarity.

Brit Charlie Baker arrives at a supposedly rundown fishing lodge in rural Georgia, led by his buddy Froggy LeSueur, a demolitions expert training soldiers at a nearby base. But Charlie is depressed because his wife, who has been indulging in a constant series of affairs with any man available, is now suffering from a terminal illness.

Apparently, Charlie's wife strayed because she found him so profoundly boring, a characteristic he readily admits to. But he's also shy, so he really doesn't want to speak to anyone while he's at this rathole in the Deep South.

Now if you were thinking, which you're not, you'd wonder why this inert mass of male protoplasm (he asks Froggy at one point, "How is it that one develops a personality?") would bother to fly across the Atlantic just to sit and not speak to anyone. But that's just one of many incongruities at work in The Foreigner.

Nevertheless, Froggy introduces Charlie to Betty, the slightly batty owner of the lodge, as a "foreigner" who can't speak English, to protect him from unwanted interactions. That inspires Betty and the only other visitors in the lodge — wealthy Catherine and her fiancé, Rev. David Lee — to start talking loud, slow, and freely in Charlie's presence.

Although not hewing to the traditional aspects of farce, including believable characters in a credible environment, Shue's setup allows actors to freely explore their ability to entertain an audience.

As Charlie, Eric van Baars is a bundle of giggles as he first sinks into the mute puzzlement of the character, only to emerge later as quite the cutup. Morphing from a stick figure to a cuddly fellow who eventually curls up on Catherine's lap like a puppy, van Baars uses his lithe physicality to make Charlie a surefire audience favorite, if not an entirely genuine character.

John Kolibab has the bearing and heft necessary for Froggy, although he could take more comedic risks with this macho warrior type. For a guy who blows things up for a living, this Froggy is a bit tame. As the easily gulled Betty, Paula Duesing uses her raspy voice and excellent timing to generate laughs. But when she and Froggy wrestle with some exposition early on, it's one of a few places in the first act that moves far too slowly.

Happily, things perk up when Charlie meets Ellard, Catherine's dimwitted brother who evidently helps Betty out around the resort. Their breakfast, in which the language-challenged Charlie and the not-too-bright Ellard share the same space, is funny and charming.

As Ellard, Tony Zanoni is quite believable, using stiff, jerky movements and simple good humor to make this genuinely flawed character the most lovable of the bunch. Also excellent is Amy Pawlukiewicz as the sarcastic and self-deprecating Catherine ("Some people are meant to be a waste of food," she says, "and I'm one").

The playwright reaches for a semi-serious subplot involving a Ku Klux Klan conspiracy led by Rev. Lee (an overly bland Darren Nash) and his sidekick, shit-kicking good ol' redneck Owen Musser. This scheme never makes much sense and feels tacked on to give Charlie and Ellard a chance to shine.

Played with delicious gusto by Robert Ellis, Owen rouses the locals to raid the lodge and oust the foreigner. But things are resolved thanks to predictable heroics and a nice bit of stage trickery. The production is highlighted by Ben Needham's handsome log-house set design for the lodge, although it bears few signs of decrepitude for a joint that's been condemned.

So if you're not bothered by lapses in logic and are able to leap gaping plot holes in a single bound, The Foreigner offers a passel of easy laughs.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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