What: “The Foreigner”
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Winters Community Center, 201 Railroad Ave., Winters
Tickets: $10 general, $6 for students and seniors, available at Pacific Ace Hardware, 35 Main St.; call (530) 795-4014 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
WINTERS — This little play is just so much fun. And the laughs coming from the audience aren’t courtesy chuckles — they’re for real.
“The Foreigner,” brought to the Winters Community Center stage by The Winters Theatre Company, brings to life a play written by Larry Shue and explores the inherent comedy when a painfully shy guest at a fishing lodge, Charlie Baker, pretends to be a foreigner who can’t speak any English. All this, just to avoid having to speak with and interact with others.
Having been thrown unwillingly and unexpectedly into this role by his traveling companion, Froggy LeSueur, Charlie gradually learns to like the charade and ultimately finds himself by interacting with the other guests at the lodge, as well as the lodge’s owner, Betty Meeks.
The mix-up is set against 1950s-style racism, however, and there is a jarring scene involving a Ku Klux Klan invasion of the lodge that even now, 60 years later, is still an uncomfortable topic for comedy. No one is laughing when the men in sheets arrive. Thankfully, the KKK is outwitted by “the foreigner” and the story ends on stage better than many did in real life.
This play pretty much belongs to the lead character, Charlie, played by a perpetually beaming Phil Pittman, who surely had sore cheeks after two hours. Pittman is truly darling in this role, and brings to mind how Robin Williams might play the part. He is charming and, at all times, thoroughly entertaining.
Also of note is Jesse Akers, in the villain’s role of Owen Musser, who distrusts Charlie, verbally abuses him, threatens him and in the end, gets what he deserves — an appointment with Johnny Law. Several parts of this role require sudden hostile outbursts, and Akers carried them perfectly. He played Owen as stupid, mean and volatile — just as a KKK member should be.
Michael Barbour as Froggy LeSueur also helps save the day when the KKK comes calling, but of course, the entire predicament is his fault in the first place. After declaring Charlie to be “a foreigner,” Froggy waltzes off on military business and leaves Charlie to fend for himself. Barbour captures the dry-witted LeSueur, and serves well as the thread holding the entire story together. Dona Akers as the sweet, patient lodge owner just oozes Southern hospitality and also carries her weight in every scene.
More on-stage talent can be found in Jim Hewlett as Ellard Simms, the mentally challenged brother of Catherine Simms, played by Joanie Bryant. Hewlett was a playful, sweet foil to Catherine’s fiancé, the Rev. David M. Lee, played by Jason Spyres. All three actors were absolutely solid in their performances. All three knew their characters well and never missed a beat. Both of the Simms siblings were sweetly naïve, but Catherine eventually becomes suspicious of her less-than-perfect preacher fiancé.
All in all, there isn’t a “weakest link” in this cast. Clearly, director Trent Beeby was able to bring out the best in his performers, and the end result was delightful. And still is — the play continues this weekend, with Friday’s show a benefit for the Winters History Project.