Life + Arts Theater

Alley Theatre’s ‘Foreigner’ energized riot of farce

Schissler Foundation photos for the Philanthropy journal in Houston, Tx.     photos on 6-30-15  by John Everett

The award-winning comedy features two acts of farcical humor, which results in laughter blasting from the audience | Courtesy of John Everett

The Alley Theatre’s production of “The Foreigner”, running until Aug. 9, carries a potentially distasteful, outdated premise.

But the screwball comedy’s “foreignness” at hand is so hilariously generalized that it turns out to be innocent.

The play is loaded with setups to riotous payoffs, lurking within the props, character banter, or the running gags of one-liner quips.

Chronically shy Englishman Charlie (Jeffrey Bean) is brought by his jolly friend Sergeant Froggy (Paul Hope) to a three-day retreat at a Georgia cabin run by a widowed Betty (portrayed with Southern sweetness by UH alumna Annalee Jefferies).

The play hits all the right theatrical basics.

Late writer Larry Shue knows that comedy comes from the human truths. Assuming that Charlie understands nothing, the supporting characters become more comfortable at showing their double standards around him.

Schissler Foundation photos for the Philanthropy journal in Houston, Tx.     photos on 6-30-15  by John Everett

“The Foreigner” will finalize the Alley Theatre’s stay at the University of Houston before the actors move to their newly renovated space downtown | Courtesy of John Everett

Eventually, Charlie wields his fractured English and faux-accent to mock and outwit the bigot Owen much to his and the audience’s satisfaction.

Even as Charlie relishes and mugs the spotlight, it’s clear that Charlie now feels that he deserves other people’s company, and that they deserve him, too.

It would be easy for Jeremy Webb, who plays a mentally-impaired brother, to over-sentimentalize his character, but he provides his character with humanity in the midst of his dim-wittedness.

The climax does spring ahead too abruptly into serious, suspenseful territory, which exemplifies how tricky Shue’s script could be. It’s still consistently grounded in humor.

Perhaps more important than the well-timed comedy is that the cast, especially leading man Bean, always seem like they’re playing their characters more than just for laughs.

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