WEST VALLEY CITY — The Foreigner is such a well-crafted comedy that it is nearly impossible to put on a bad production of the play. West Valley Arts has a production full of charm and humor that never ceases to entertain.
In The Foreigner (written by Larry Shue), shy and anxious Charlie visits a rural bread and breakfast inn nestled in the mountains of Georgia after being invited by his friend, Froggy. To help Charlie avoid interaction with the other people at the cabin, Froggy tells the owner that Charlie is a foreigner who does not speak English. Charlie gets enmeshed in the locals’ problems anyway, which escalate to the point where Charlie’s life is endangered.
Director Bruce Craven has crafted a nice production that never loses sight of the humor. Craven has a knack at building the speed of a scene for comedic effect, such as when Charlie was giving a language lesson. The climax is too rushed, though, and this reduces the sense of danger as Charlie and his friends defend the cabin.
Leading the cast is Joseph Paul Branca as Charlie. Branca is an expert at showing character growth, and his Charlie organically changes from an anxious, mousy man into a confident leader. Branca has comedic talent to spare, and every joke he delivered landed perfectly. His biggest drawback is that he appears at least 10 years too young for the role; it is hard to believe that someone with such a boyish face could be old enough to have served in the military, later gotten married, and for that marriage to last long enough for his wife to have a series of affairs.
The strongest performance of the evening comes from Brandon Green as Ellard Simms. The character has a developmental disability, and Green has the mannerisms and voice to show this in an unexaggerated fashion. It is a respectful portrayal that makes the character endearing, especially as he grows in confidence from being Charlie’s English teacher.
Vicky Pugmire gave a heartwarming performance as Betty, the cabin owner. Pugmire strikes the perfect balance between crotchety and lovable, and I enjoyed every minute she spent on stage. Pugmire was most fun in Betty’s moments of giddiness, such as when she learned that Charlie was a bona fide foreigner, or when learning Charlie’s language. But Pugmire could also bring some emotional depth and seriousness to the role, such as when Betty was worrying about the financial devastation that she would suffer if her cabin were condemned. The other female cast member, Amanda Anne Dayton, played Ellard’s sister, Catherine Simms. Dayton started the show delivering her lines brusquely and harshly, which made it hard to build up sympathy for her character’s challenges. However, Dayton softened her performance, and early in the second act she had won me over completely as she fawned over Charlie.
I adored the set, created by Adam Flitton. The entryways and stage were decorated with old knickknacks that an old lady like Catherine would accumulate over the years. The couches also had a late 1980s aesthetic that helped establish the date of the action. Overall, the set had a homey and welcoming feel, and I understood why Froggy would visit Catherine’s cabin annually. I was less pleased with Kelsey Nichols‘s costumes, especially when costume pieces were too modern, such as the dress shirt and shoes that David Lee (Catherine’s fiancé, played by TJ Thomas) wore. Additionally, having the attackers dressed in paramilitary gear — instead of the sheets and robes of Ku Klux Klan members, as the script calls for — is confusing and makes the climax less frightening.
However, the biggest disappointment with The Foreigner is the low turnout. On opening night, there were almost 100 people in attendance in a theater that seats several times that number. This is the second time in a row that I have enjoyed my visit to West Valley Arts but have noticed too many empty seats in the theater. West Valley Arts is mounting great productions in a great venue, and I wish more people would give their shows a chance. Patrons should start with The Foreigner.