Larry Shue's "The Foreigner" (1983) is one of those brilliantly-written comedies that absolutely always succeeds, except when it doesn't.
Shue (1946-85) certainly did his part, concocting a clever plot and the careful exposition it demands, then harvesting its comic possibilities, every absurdity arising naturally out of what went before. It's almost a farce, but not quite -- the comedy is based more in language and character than escalating physical frenzy.
So all it needs is a seven-actor cast with two skilled (and likable) comedians, an efficient straight-man, two sympathetic women (older and younger, i.e., mom and cutie) and two villains, one of them obvious, the other concealed.
It's not actually as easy as it may seem, but all these are present and accounted for at St. Vincent Summer Theatre where "The Foreigner" run through July 21, under the direction of Colleen Rielly. And why wouldn't they be? After all, St. Vincent has staged the show three times before -- 1986, 1993 and 2004 -- so you assume they'd have it down pat.
On the other hand, that's ridiculous, because live theater isn't the same night to night, let alone decade to decade. In addition, some of those memories set a high standard.
So I went with some trepidation and quickly found out I was in good hands. David Cabot is perfectly phlegmatic, then gradually warms into inspired invention, as the Englishman who finds himself in a fishing lodge in rural Georgia pretending (for reasons made logical by Shue) not to know the language. And Kevin Daniel O'Leary is deliciously sympathetic as the bumpkin who turns out not to be as slow as everyone thinks. Both have the wit not to overplay, but let the comedy blossom slowly.
The supporting cast has Gregory Lehane as the avuncular straight-man, Patricia Reilly and Juliana Carr as the women and F.J. Hartland and Alex Walton as the villains, creepy and creepier.
As I say, I was surrounded by memories. Not just of the 1984 off-Broadway premiere, but the St. Vincent predecessors. Even though St. Vincent now performs in a better theater than the converted lecture hall it used back then, I can still remember that 1986 production, with David Butler and Jeff Paul in the chief comic roles, and John Amplas and Bill Dalzell among those in support. Brilliant!
(Oddly, it was staged that same month by City Theatre at Hartwood, with Marc Masterson directing Mark Stevenson and Jeff Monahan. They were good, but St. Vincent was better.)
I don't think I saw it at St. Vincent in 1993, because I'm sure I'd have specific memories of Christian Rummel, Renata Carreon and Amplas again. But I certainly did see it in 2004, with the great pair of Michael Fuller and Greg Longenhagen in the leads, and with Jarrod DiGiorgi in support.
I guess my point is that "The Foreigner" holds up over time, providing a wonderful comic trampoline on which performers can do their stuff. They've having fun this week at St. Vincent.
Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson is at firstname.lastname@example.org.