The area's housing market may be dim, but the North Suncoast's theater season has never been this bright. So far, the three major venues in Spring Hill, Hudson and New Port Richey have offered some of their best work ever, and area audiences are the clear winners.
Add to that growing list the rollicking comedy The Foreigner, playing at Richey Suncoast Theatre weekends through Jan. 29. The late Larry Shue's tight, well-written play is clever, fun and fast, with a theme of racism and bigotry that resonates more truly in today's toxic political atmosphere than it did when the show opened in 1984, which probably explains the breath-holding stillness during the show's most caustic scenes.
Every one of director Rich Aront's seven-member cast is stellar, but watch especially Nate "Danger" Sakovich in the title role and Mark Lewis as the menacing county property appraiser Owen Musser. Sakovich's deep, resonate voice and terrific facial expressions make foreigner Charlie Baker ring true from start to finish. And Lewis, the theater's dependably effective go-to character actor, makes the mean, nasty hillbilly Owen Musser into a performance of a lifetime.
The Foreigner takes place in a backwoods Georgia hunting resort, where owner Betty Meeks (a delightful Anne Lakey) makes everyone feel welcome. Betty has never been outside of Georgia, so she is thrilled when her English friend, Staff Sgt. Froggy LeSueur (a charming Anthony Sakovich, who keeps his Cockney accent right on the mark), drops off a real, live foreigner, his pal Charlie, for a three-day stay. Froggy is going a few miles away to train U.S. troops in the use of explosives, and he's brought Charlie along in hopes of making him less melancholy over the impending death of his wife back in England.
The shy and insecure Charlie can't stand the thought of having to socialize with strangers while Froggy is gone, so Froggy comes up with the idea of having Charlie pretend to be a foreigner who can't speak or understand a word of English. This makes the other lodge guests feel they can say whatever they like in front of him, without fear of being understood.
That includes the spoiled, unhappy former debutante Catherine Simms (a petulantly darling Suzanne Delaney), who reveals her innermost secrets to him, while her fiance, the outwardly compassionate, but inwardly sinister preacher, the Rev. David Marshall Lee (Bob Marcella showing a new facet of his considerable acting talents) flaunts his hypocrisy in Charlie's face.
Meanwhile, Catherine's slow-witted younger brother Ellard Simms (an adorable C.J. Fowler), who stands to get half of the Simms inheritance unless the Rev. Lee can discredit him so his fiancee Catherine gets it all, makes friends with Charlie and turns both their worlds upside down. Fowler's Ellard is spunky and sweet, with an infectious enthusiasm and energy that brightens the whole stage.
It all makes for wonderful physical comedy, big laughs and biting observations and situations that might make some in the audience squirm — and deservedly so. Suffice it to say that Musser and his Ku Klux Klan buddies don't pull any punches in their contempt for anyone who isn't white, Christian, Protestant, and U.S.-born.
Director Aront's extraordinary cast and crew make the 2 hour, 45 minute show seem like only moments, with excellent pacing and confident presentation that just fly by. This is my fourth time around with The Foreigner, and I can say that this production outdoes them all, even the (high-priced) professional version I saw at an out-of-area theater a couple of years ago.