When an ordinary bloke poses as a foreigner in a remote resort in Georgia, he becomes a magic mirror in which the good-hearted people around him see their better selves and watch their dreams of fulfillment unfold. The evil-hearted, on the other hand, are undone by what they see in Charlie. It's a charming recipe for a light farce, and the production of Larry Shue's The Foreigner at Country Dinner Playhouse serves up its fair share of charm.

Shue's comedy is a favorite with audiences not only because it's so funny, but because it says so much about how we find contentment in the good we do for others. Since it's a farce, the heroes are clear-cut homey types and the villains are broadly drawn as evil--but the fun here is in seeing just how good triumphs over evil.

British staff sergeant "Froggy" Le Seur (smartly played by Phi Bernier) visits the American South once a year to advise the U.S. Army bomb squad. His friend Charlie's perpetually unfaithful wife lies mortally ill in a hospital, and Charlie is boring her to death. So she begs Froggy to drop Charlie off at a forest resort near the bomb squad's camp.

Charlie is a loser--"I sometimes wonder if a science-fiction magazine actually needs a copy editor," he laments. And he's so shy that he actually panics at the idea of having to relate to the hostess and other guests at the resort. So Froggy tells them all that Charlie is a foreigner who speaks not a word of English and hates to be talked at. The hostess, kindly old Betty, has always longed to know an exotic foreigner, and for her Charlie is a dream come true. Every little thing he does is inordinately interesting to Betty--and Charlie graciously humors her to the nth degree.

Charlie quickly comes to mean a lot to everyone. Catherine, a wealthy but desperately unhappy young woman engaged to a hypocritical preacher, confides all her troubles to him, thinking he doesn't understand her. Meanwhile, the preacher, Reverend David Lee, and a local creep named Owen Musser plot to defraud Betty of her property and use Catherine's money to further the cause of no lesser an evil than the Ku Klux Klan--all in front of Charlie.

Catherine's retarded brother is one of the victims of the preacher's machinations. So Charlie inspires young Ellard with confidence by "learning" to speak and read English under Ellard's tutelage.

Character actor Charlie Dell, who stars alongside Burt Reynolds in TV's Evening Shade, is the chief asset of this production. He makes the perfect foreigner; when he assumes his silly accent, he even looks Old Worldly. His sweet, funny face and wiry frame take well to absurd little jigs of joy. He allows his character to evolve from a diffident nerd to an extroverted hero, spicing his goofball antics with a dash of the jester's subversive mockery.

Dell's wife, Jennifer Williams, plays opposite him as Catherine the frenzied socialite. Williams softens from a shrew into a warm human being like hard chocolate melting over a slow flame. It's nice work. Paul Dwyer gives a tender performance as the dull Ellard, while Annabelle Weenick's kindly Betty is best when she is not bustling about in excitement.

And Marcus Waterman could play any sociopath on the face of the earth. Next to Dell, Waterman as the dirt-bag preacher gives the best performance of the evening--though Paul Borillo as the vicious Owen is one fine psycho, too.

The first act here could be toned down a notch--way too much loud raving going on. And the whole production wouldn't suffer if it were trimmed by half an hour. But, basically, Country Dinner's Foreigner cooks.


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