'Foreigner': zany adventures in Georgia

Foreigner Comedy by Larry Shue. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Larry Shue has written a comic strip of a comedy in which the improbable is commonplace and the preposterous is par for the plot's zany course. ''The Foreigner,'' at the Astor Place Theatre, recounts the adventures of a shy Englishman, in the course of a three-day visit to a Georgia fishing lodge. Because of his shyness, Charlie Baker (Anthony Heald) is passed off by his British friend as one who neither speaks nor understands English. Mr. Shue then departs on some military errand, leaving Charlie to cope with the natives and eventually with a Klan plot to commandeer the lodge and launch a subversive empire.

Accepting Charlie's adventures, even at their farcical face value, demands more than a willing suspension of disbelief. Yet the theatrical high jinks create their own kind of loony fun.

The splendid Mr. Heald plays Charlie with a combination of bland sincerity and deceptive cunning that make him an ideal innocent abroad in backwoods Georgia. Mr. Heald's recital of a lengthy anecdote in Charlie's ''native'' tongue is nonsense gibberish of a high order. The audience delights in the deception.

Under Jerry Zaks's direction, Charlie's dupes - whether unsuspecting or suspicious - are played in appropriate comic manner by Patricia Kalember as a pretty heiress, Kevin Geer as her slightly backward brother, and Robert Schenkkan and Christopher Curry as the menacing nasties of the plot. Sudie Bond, who gave a delightful performance as the owner of the lodge, passed on shortly after the opening and has been replaced by her understudy, Kathleen Claypool.

Karen Schulz was set designer and Rita Ryack costumed the production.

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