Like virtually every other actor, Evette Randolph always wanted to direct.

For Randolph, whose stage and film career started a quarter-century ago when she was a student at Southeastern, that time has finally come.

She’s helming "The Foreigner," a comedy by the late New Orleans-born writer Larry Shue, which begins its three-weekend run Saturday (Feb. 17) at the 30 by Ninety Theater in Mandeville.

“When you’re an actor, you’re always picking apart shows and thinking what you can do to make them better,” Randolph said. “It’s fun to finally be on the other side.”

For her directing debut, Randolph has a good one to work with.

Written in 1983 and an Obie winner as the Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway production, "The Foreigner" has been a stage staple ever since, including a 2006 production at Playmakers Theater of Covington.

The story brings two Englishmen — Charlie Baker (Ladson Poole) and Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur (Tom Hassinger) — to a fishing lodge in rural Georgia owned by Betty Meeks (Amy Dickson Riddell), who’s nurturing to all, and sarcastic as well.

Charlie is depressed about his adulterous wife who he believes is dying, so much so that he doesn’t feel that he can talk to anyone. So Froggy comes up with the idea of Charlie being from some exotic, unpronounceable country and unable to understand English while speaking to himself in gibberish (think Andy Kaufman’s “Latka” from "Taxi").

That makes the others believe they can say anything about Charlie, or anyone else, in front of him.

Thus, plenty of secrets and scandals are revealed involving the other denizens of the lodge — heiress Catherine Simms (Dawn Mastascuso) and her dimwitted brother Ellard (Nico Bonura Jr.), the Rev. David Marshall Lee (Jeff Hogg) and townsman Owen Musser (Jason Leader).

Randolph said she knew of Shue, who was 39 when he died in a plane crash in 1985, but was not familiar with "The Foreigner," which was his last work.

Last spring, though, while appearing in "The Red Velvet Cake Wars" at 30 by Ninety, she was approached about directing something this season.

“They said they had one they thought would be right for me, and I said, ‘OK,’” said Randolph, who has been honored for her volunteerism and serves on the boards of several nonprofits. “I read it and I was so excited because the writing is funny and amazing.”

Casting, which Randolph says is her true calling, was vital, especially for Charlie.

Because the character does more with his expressions and actions than his words, someone with a physical comedic ability was needed for the role.

Randolph has that someone in veteran Poole, although hopefully he won’t have to take things as far as he did in his last role in "The Underpants" at Covington's Playmakers. In that show, he broke two ribs doing a flip over a railing — and still managed to tough it out for five more shows while also directing.

“It wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last,” Poole said. “In this one though, Charlie has to do a lot of communicating with his face.

“And the good thing about this is that the audience is in on it with him, so it’s like it’s our little joke.”

That makes 30 by Ninety’s intimate confines a real bonus because every actor’s expression is right there for the audience.

Although they’ve both been around community theater on the North Shore for some time, Randolph and Poole had not met before she cast him. They’ve since developed a mutual admiration society.

“Ladson’s made this like the old Carol Burnett show,” she said. “The play gives him the leeway to get everyone on stage off-kilter with his expressions." 

Poole said Randolph’s being a first-time director hasn’t been an issue.

“Evette has great patience,” he said. “She lets the actors develop their own thing.

“And if it’s not the way she wants it to go, she let’s us know in a nice ‘Evette’ way.” 

And although Randolph’s first directing effort has yet to be seen on stage, she doesn’t want it to be the last.

“I haven’t volunteered for the next one yet,” she said. “But I’m sure I will.

“This is too much fun.”

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"The Foreigner"

WHAT: New Orleans-born playwright Larry Shue's Obie-winning comedy about misadventures in a Georgia fishing lodge.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, and March 2-3; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, and March 4

WHERE: 30 by Ninety Theater, 880 Lafayette St., Mandeville

TICKETS: $18, $17 seniors and $14 military

INFO: (844) 843-3090 or thirtybyninety.com

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