Given all the fuss these days about immigration and borders, you might expect The Foreigner to be a serious political play. Wrong. It's a nonstop comedic triumph. When it moved from Milwaukee to Off Broadway in 1984, The Foreigner won two Obie awards and two Outer Critics Circle awards. Larry Shue's script is complicated but hysterical, and the Thin Air Theatre Company's production brings belly laughs from beginning to end.
The story takes place at a rural Georgia lodge, where Staff Sgt. "Froggy" LeSueur (Nick Madson) of the British army arrives with his English friend Charlie Baker (Jeffrey Salsbury). Froggy is a regular at the lodge, and a friend of proprietor Betty Meeks (Teri McClintock). The lodge is in imminent danger of being condemned, and Betty is desperate to avoid losing it. Charlie is staying for a few days, but doesn't want to be bothered by the other guests. To avoid them, he pretends he doesn't speak English, and that becomes the source of this comedic feast.
Salsbury has a considerable challenge reciting Shue's complicated gibberish. The script requires Charlie to tell a story in his "native language," a language he fabricates. Shue mixes a variety of dialects for the nonsense that Salsbury must deliver — an intimidating task for any actor, but Salsbury does it with a sly credibility. His entire performance is marvelous, but the five minutes telling the story in his native language is unforgettable.
Madson's Froggy gets laughs not just from the script, but also from his eye rolls and constant cocktail refills. Madson maintains a credible British accent throughout the hijinks, and smirks at the quandary he has concocted for Charlie. McClintock is hilarious as she claims the exotic foreigner as her own. Catherine (Kathleen Macari) adds some spice and attitude when she accidentally spills her secrets to Charlie. Owen (JT Rider) and Reverend Lee (Kevin Pierce) are devious villains, but outsmarted by the much dimmer Ellard (Connor Reilly). Reilly shows considerable range in his role, growing from a shy dullard to a confident leader. It's a tricky transition that he handles very well.
Director Lawrence Lesher starts with an abundantly talented cast and puts them through The Foreigner obstacle course. Comedy is not always a result of a funny script, although Shue certainly delivers one. It's also a result of careful comedic timing and physical gestures. Lesher perfectly punctuates the script with precise timing and flashy physical comedy. There were times during the first act when the audience was actually stepping on lines because they couldn't stop laughing.
One caveat: The play's humor relies on some stereotypes that may offend those with Southern roots. There is also some humor involving a despicable hate group. Some may find such humor to be in poor taste. You've been warned.
That caveat aside, The Foreigner is a rip-roaring great evening of entertainment. If you need some cheering up after a few hours at one of Cripple Creek's blackjack tables, get a ticket. You'll feel much better after meeting The Foreigner.