As any well-seasoned traveler can tell you, visiting a foreign country can lead to some interesting scenarios. A misunderstood phrase, a poor command of the language and not knowing the customs are just a few ways to commit a faux pas abroad.
But what if you aren't abroad? What if instead of being an awkward foreigner in a strange land, an awkward foreigner comes to stay with you? And what if they actually speak English, they are just pretending not to understand you for their own advantage?
This is the set up for Larry Shue's "The Foreigner," and under Tom Width's direction the results are hilarious. The connections between Shue and Swift Creek run deep—Shue himself worked at Swift Creek Mill Theatre while he was stationed in the Army at Fort Lee. As one of Shue's two best-known works, the play originally debuted in Milwaukee before winning two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards for its off-Broadway production. Sadly, Shue's life was cut short in a commuter plane crash in the Shenandoah Valley in 1985 when he was 39.
Richard Koch stars as Englishman Charlie Baker, a shy man worried that he is boring. In an effort to cheer up Charlie, his friend Froggy convinces him to take a vacation at a fishing lodge in rural Georgia. Charlie's shyness is so severe that just the idea of conversing with strangers turns him into a neurotic mess. When Charlie's plan to spend his vacation all alone is foiled, Froggy hatches a plan: If he tells the other tenants that Charlie doesn't speak English, then Charlie won't have to worry about carrying on his end of the conversation. Naturally, hilarity ensues. Because they don't think he can speak English, his fellow lodgers tell their secrets openly without fear that he will catch on.
Koch is hysterical as Charlie. From his initial mime work to his foreign persona's faux learning of the English language, Koch lights up the stage. Some of the funniest scenes in the show are as simple as Koch eating breakfast without saying a word. Charlie's unlikely sidekick in all of this is Jay Welch as Ellard Simms, a young man whose mental capabilities are always in question. Welch plays the part with humor while still honoring his proto-Forrest Gump character's dignity. Bill Brock is excellent as the ignorant redneck Owen Musser. Brock manages the tricky task of making Owen alternately moronic and threatening while still being funny.
Width's wood-paneled set works perfectly for the show's needs, and the special effects only amplify the hilarity. Necessity ends up being the mother of reinvention for Charlie, and by the end of the play he finds himself much more interesting than he ever could have imagined possible.
With an incredible climax, great cast, plenty of surprises and an excellent ending, Swift Creek's "The Foreigner" is a must-see.
"The Foreigner" plays at Swift Creek Mill Theatre at 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway through Oct. 23. Visit swiftcreekmill.com or call 748-5203 for tickets.