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HART's 'Foreigner' an unapologetically funny farce

COURTESY PHOTO: NICOLE MAE PHOTOGRAPHY - HART's 'Foreigner' is on stage now in Hillsboro. It is said that laughter is the best medicine. If so, then audiences for author Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” are getting a real bargain. HART’s $15 admission, while not covered by Obamacare, is still the best deal in town.

Under the guidance of director Sarah Ominski and Assistant Director Sarah Thornton, the cast of this odd farce creates an engaging narrative and characters we really care about.

The premise of the show is a convoluted and utterly implausible melodrama. Cockney Staff Sgt. Froggy LeSeur is making his annual annual visit to Tilghman County, Georgia, to share his explosives expertise with soldiers at a local army base.

LeSeur’s first stop is to deposit his former Commanding Officer, Charlie Baker, at the dilapidated fishing lodge owned by Betty Meeks, an elderly, credulous Southern ditz. Charlie has been convinced by his wife’s disdain that he is utterly devoid of personality; humiliated and self-conscious, the last thing he wants is to be left alone with a group of strangers.

Froggy addresses this dilemma by telling Betty that Charlie is a foreigner, understands no English, and cannot be spoken to during his visit. The lodge’s other visitors, assuming that Charlie cannot follow their conversations, reveal several dark secrets in his presence — including a sinister plot by local Klansmen to take over the lodge and eventually the country. Charlie improvises a “foreign language” gibberish until a cheerfully dim-witted guest, Ellard Simms, endeavors to teach him English. For obvious reasons an apt pupil, Charlie becomes fluent with miraculous speed, and within two days he is able to foil the dastardly plot and befriend the lovely heroine, Ellard’s sister, Catherine.

While the cast is amply endowed with comedic talent, the chemistry between Ellard, played by Carl Dahlquist, and Charlie, William Ferguson, really sells the show. Dahlquist is a master of the requisite “duh” look and attitude, yet he manages to convey Ellard’s inner goodness and fundamental street smarts while simply rocking a striped union suit.

HART’s small theater is a perfect platform for Ferguson, as he telegraphs his thoughts to us — and eventually to his allies — with expressive eyes and an amazing range of facial tics. Many of the evening’s best laughs come from the language lessons, as an uptight British officer is transformed into a drawling yahoo learning that “ye-us” is a two syllable word.

The final Musketeer in the comedic trio is Betty, and it is a part that actor Patti Speight was born to play. She hurls herself at the role, and at Charlie, in the ubiquitous American belief that loud talk and big gestures can overcome any language barrier. Jason Weed playing the lead Klansman is a surprising standout who captures an over-the-top Southern meanness ranging from simple malice to apoplectic anger.

William Crawford’s fishing lodge set is detailed, authentic and cleverly designed to allow for a variety of unusual entrances and exits. Some alarming events going on in an unseen outside world are captured neatly by Rebecca Glass and Benjamin Phillip’s sound design paired with lighting design by Ray Hale and Brian Ollom.

It’s not easy to keep broad farce from stepping over a fine line between serious comedy and annoyingly juvenile silliness, but the opening night audience’s reaction make it clear that the HART’s cast and crew got it right. If you go, you will laugh (a lot). Is there any better reason to see a comedy?

“The Foreigner” runs at HART Theatre, 185 S.E. Washington St. in Hillsboro through Sunday, Nov. 8, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.