I gauge all comedies by what I call the laugh meter test. At the end of the day, what really matters is – were you able to make them laugh? By this measure, the Phoenix Theatre’s current production of Larry Shue’s The Foreigner scores very high indeed. In fact, I don’t recall ever hearing more laughter coming out of a Phoenix audience. The Foreigner is fantastic — charming, clever, touching and uproariously funny, all at the same time.
Director Eric Lewis’s adept hand has shaped a familiar cast of highly accomplished actors into an excellent telling of this community theatre standard.
In a production filled with standout performances, James Lynch’s portrayal of Ellard was especially memorable. Lynch was last seen at The Phoenix in Debra Rich Gettleman’s A Twist of the Magi. The slow-witted Ellard is at once a sympathetic and amusing character, and Lynch plays him beautifully.
This play requires much more of its cast than the simple recitation of lines. As much laughter was derived from a gesture, a grimace, a glance and a look of astonishment, as from any verbal delivery. Lynch engaged in a pantomime with Charlie Baker (the title character — played splendidly by Boyd Morrison), which brought down the house. Aside from being a terrific actor, Morrison is a fascinating guy. If you missed my piece on him you can find it here.
It’s hard to imagine a more diabolical adversary for Ellard than Reverend Lee (David Bailey) and true evil is personified by Owen Musser (Michael McFadden). Having such excellent bad guys always makes the job of hero and heroine so much easier. McFadden’s garish tattoos and swaggering, pompous, malevolent depiction of villainy were spot on.
The role of femme fatale fell to Debra Rich Gettleman (Catherine), whose opening scene was especially strong. Righteous indignation has never been played better.
Melanie Calderwood (Betty) always garners her share of laughs; both her timing and her delivery were impeccable. I’ve never seen anyone get more out of a bemused glance.
Let’s not forget Froggy, played wonderfully by Phillip Keiman. Keiman is back after wowing The Phoenix in his role in God of Carnage. This time, he reached into his bag of British accents for an urban industrial working-class patois worthy of a military man. The interplay between Keiman and Morrison is hysterical. Again, a single glance was enough at times to make the crowd roar.
The Phoenix is closing out its 10th season with a bang. I really can’t say enough about this one — the pacing, the timing, the acting — all great. There’s still time to catch The Foreigner, but don’t let it get away — you’ll be glad you went.
Now through Sunday, June 17
Matinees Sunday at 2 p.m.
9673 Firdale Ave.
— By James Spangler