This revival of Larry Shue's popular comedy is delightful. Although the premise of the play is simplistic, and it takes a little while to get going, this production could scarcely be more polished; I laughed for two hours straight. Director Steve Albrezzi knows that Shue's sweet play is more of a character piece than a traditional farce, and he keeps a measured pace to focus on his terrific cast. Shy Brit Charlie (JD Cullum) needs time away from a bad relationship, and to this end his friend Froggy (Paul V. O'Connor) brings him to America, specifically to an old fishing lodge in Georgia. Charlie doesn't want to deal with anyone while he's resting, so Froggy concocts a cover story in which his friend is a foreigner who speaks no English. Assuming Charlie can't understand them, the other residents of the lodge feel free to speak in front of him, and he gradually gets to know them well: Betty (Maree Cheatham), who runs the place but is feeling tired; Catherine (Alyss Henderson), who is pregnant and about to marry the seemingly virtuous Rev. David (John Hemphill); and Catherine's mentally challenged brother Ellard (Colin Fickes), who simply requires kind attention before he can blossom.
Cullum delivers an expert and hilarious performance, and he is particularly good when Charlie stands up to various ne'er-do-wells, as the shy man discovers his inner strength. Cheatham is perfect as the well-meaning Betty, taking what could be played as a sitcom character and investing her with complete believability. Henderson is affecting as the deceived Catherine, and Hemphill is appropriately hiss-able as the devious David. Fickes is marvelous, again taking a stock character type and, by sheer strength of performance, creating a credible and sympathetic portrayal. Dave Florek is funny and frightening as the xenophobic Owen.
Charles Erven's set is detailed and convincing, and Ian Paul Garrett's lighting and Brian Long's sound design combine neatly to provide convincing atmosphere.
"The Foreigner," presented by and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Nov. 20-Jan. 30. (no performances Dec. 22-26, 31; matinees Sun. 3 p.m. Jan 2, 16 & 23, 2005) $12-25. (310) 477-2055.