Just as you think The Foreigner is the most knee-slapping, guffaw-inducing comedy you've ever seen, it takes a delightfully sinister turn that first brings gasps of dread, then turns on a dime and provides more laughs.
Some theater groups make the late Larry Shue's best-known play all laughs, while others make it all frightful, but director Rich Aront says his crew is making it a combination, heavy on the giggles.
"We're definitely going for the comedy, but we do bring in the KKK part, too," Aront said, referring to a scene in which the white supremacist group is mentioned.
The Foreigner is the tale of shy and sad Englishman Charlie Baker (Nate Sakovich, Funny Money, There Goes the Bride), who accompanies the gregarious Staff Sgt. "Froggy" LeSueur (Anthony Sakovich, Richey Suncoast debut) to a backwoods hunting lodge in Georgia in hopes of forgetting his woes.
Froggy has to leave to go lead a training camp, but Charlie can't stand the thought of having to socialize with the others at the lodge. Froggy concocts an idea: He'll tell everyone that Charlie is from a foreign country and can't understand or speak a word of English. That way Charlie can be present but won't have to be involved with anyone.
Because Charlie "can't understand" what they're saying, the other guests talk freely about their secrets and affairs right in front of him.
The spoiled Southern girl Catherine Simms (Suzanne Delaney, RST newcomer) reveals how displeased she is about her relationship with the Rev. David Lee (Bob Marcela, John Smith in Caught in the Net). Catherine's younger brother, the slow but wise Ellard (C.J. Fowler, RST newcomer), tries to help Charlie learn English. And the nefarious county property inspector Owen Musser (Mark Lewis, Cabaret, The Music Man) inadvertently shows his true colors.
The most understanding and helpful is Betty Meeks (Anne Lakey, Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret), who owns the lodge and tries to make Charlie feel at home.
With all this, the comedy doesn't overshadow the messages about tolerance and friendship.
"The writing in this show is just so good," Aront said. "It leads you down a road, then takes a different turn. The characters constantly surprise you. Each one is so individual, but it's a nice ensemble piece, too."