The Towne Players of Garner, under the direction of Beth F. Honeycutt, will open their 2003-2004 season tonight with a delightful down-home comedy. Set deep in the backwoods of Georgia, where a ragtag remnant of the Ku Klux Klan still haunts the back roads, The Foreigner by Larry Shue (The Nerd) is a hilarious tale about trip to rural Georgia gone awry. This Off-Broadway hit debuted on Nov. 1, 1984, at the Astor Palace Theatre in New York City and ran for 686 performances.

In praising the original production, The New Yorker critic wrote: “I laughed start to finish at one comic surprise after another.” The Village Voice reviewer called The Foreigner “a constant invitation to relax and laugh at the foolishness of life.” And the Bergen (NJ) Record critic claimed: “Shue’s comedy is positively antic, yet pleasantly seasoned with a few dashes of sentimentality…. He has raided comedy’s storehouse….”

Director Beth Honeycutt’s husband, Towne Players technical director Scott Honeycutt, claims, “There are many things to like about The Foreigner: the fact that the characters turn out to not be what they at first seem to be, the humor of the show, and the fact that this show exposes racists for what they truly are. This show challenges the audience to face hatred, but presents it in a way that is easier to absorb and deal with.”

Scott Honeycutt says the plot of The Foreigner is ingenious. “[British demolition expert S/Sgt.] ‘Froggy’ LeSueur (Don Howard) brings his [painfully shy young English] friend Charlie Baker (Greg Flowers)[, a professional proofreader,] to Betty Meeks’ (Frances Stanley) hunting lodge in rural Georgia. Charlie is depressed because of relationship problems with his wife. He’s caught her cheating on him 23 times, so Froggy thinks the change of scenery will be just what the doctor ordered.

“Before Froggy leaves to go give demolition instruction at a local military base,” Honeycutt says, “he tells Betty that Charlie is a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language. The hilarious group of Southerners that inhabit the inn have fun with Charlie, trying to teach him and learn from him until Charlie stumbles across a devious plot that involves property and the Ku Klux Klan.”

The stellar Towne Players cast also includes Tim Upchurch as the deceitful and dangerous Rev. David Marshall Lee; Jack Chapman as mean and nasty Tilghman County, Georgia, property inspector Owen Musser; Kelly Stansill as Lee’s twentyish pregnant fiancée, Catherine Simms; and Rusty Sutton as Catherine’s dim-witted brother, Ellard Simms.

Towne Players artistic director Beth F. Honeycutt and technical director Scott Honeycutt designed the show’s rustic set, and Scott Honeycutt doubles as the comedy’s lighting designer.

“The set is a multileveled hunting lodge in rural Georgia,” says Scott Honeycutt, “with dark-paneled wood and a sunken-living-room effect. Hunter green accents the trophies on the wall, including a deer head and various types of waterfowl.

“Our lighting is pretty straight forward,” Honeycutt admits, “and the costumes are authentic 1980s down to Owen’s Red Man Tobacco cap and white sheet.”

He adds, “We’ve never actually seen the play produced. It does get done now and again, but its technical requirements make it harder to stage.

“The show requires a trap door in the stage floor,” says Honeycutt, “and many spaces just don’t have one. We don’t have a trap door at Garner Historic Auditorium, so we’ve had to be innovative in addressing the challenge.”

He adds, “The nature of creating theater in this space is a big challenge. Our set for every show must be prepared off site and moved in the week of the show by an all volunteer staff. Our actors rarely get to rehearse with the set until a few of days before the show. Specifically, the trap door on the set was a challenge we solved with creative set design.”

Scott Honeycutt says, “The Towne Players strive to do top-quality work on a shoestring budget. We’ll be selling season tickets at the door. Our season tickets are dirt cheap: $20 for adults and $15 for students and senior citizens. The ticket includes The Foreigner [Oct. 17-25], The Cemetery Club [Jan. 16-24], and The Man Who Came to Dinner [April 16-24], as well as the children’s performance of Little Women [June 24]. Also, we encourage our patrons to bring a comfortable seat cushion. The [Garner Historic Auditorium’s] vintage seats from the 1920s are all wood, no cushion.”

The Towne Players of Garner presents The Foreigner Friday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 18, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 23-25, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 West Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors). 919/779-6144.