Larry Shue’s The Foreigner, now playing at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, is brilliantly cast. Director Tom Width always chooses his actors expertly and this production is no exception.
The show is hilarious with a laugh a minute. The actors’ timing is perfect, and the night I attended they received a well-deserved standing ovation.
The story opens on a stormy night in a rural and somewhat rundown fishing lodge in 1982 Georgia, owned by Betty Meeks. British Staff Sgt. Froggy LeSeur has bought his sad and boring friend Charlie along in order to cheer him up and forget his wife’s 26 indiscretions. Charlie is painfully shy and does not want to speak; he wants to go home, but cannot leave for three days. Froggy comes up with a plan to explain that Charlie is a foreigner who does not know any English. The plan backfires and the fun begins as Charlie becomes privy to many secrets that are openly discussed in front of him by the other visitors.
Froggy is convincingly played by James Rees with a strongly delivered authentic Cockney accent that never faltered. He sets the pace and energy of the show.
Richard Koch plays Charlie brilliantly from the moment he enters as the shy friend. Unwilling to speak after Froggy leaves, his face wonderfully expresses his reactions to the unfolding mayhem. He spouts foreign gibberish, and even teaches it to the others, then pretends to gradually learn basic English. His miming is terrific, particularly in the egg eating scene with Ellard.
Jay Welch plays Ellard, the simple and slow brother of Catherine, who has to prove he is capable of handling his share of an inheritance. The scenes where he attempts to teach English to Charlie are hilarious.
Sarah Legere plays Catherine, the prime beneficiary of the inheritance, prospective buyer of the lodge, and fiancée of the Rev. David Lee. Her portrayal is beautifully presented and sensitive. But, like many Southern belles, she can be fiery when the occasion rises.
Jonathon Hardison plays Lee, who fools us at first but turns out to have a dark side. He handles the switch in character splendidly.
Bill Brook plays Owen Messer, the local bully out to feather his own nest, and is convincingly heavy and brutal from the moment he enters.
Last but not least, Michelle Black plays lodge owner Betty Meeks. Betty has never seen a foreigner before and is fascinated by Charlie. She is comical in every way without overacting.
The set by Tom Width is authentically rural, with convincing storm effects. The acting, set and story make for a perfect evening out. A good laugh is what we all need, and you will certainly get it with The Foreigner. The play runs through Oct. 23.
On a personal note, this play is special to me as I knew Larry Shue, and acted with him in Waltz of the Toreadors when he was stationed at Fort Lee. He was a talented actor and artist with a great wit and love of life and people. I still have the scrim from the Toreador set, which he painted and then gave me to remember him by. After his service at Fort Lee, he became resident playwright at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, where he wrote The Nerd and The Foreigner. The Foreigner ran for 686 performances in New York’s Astor Place Theatre and won two Obies. Ironically, on the brink of national success, he was on his way to Hollywood to discuss film rights when the commuter plane he was travelling in crashed in the Blue Ridge. His two plays have since become favorites in professional theatre and are a fitting memorial to a dear, charming and talented man.