If you want the final word on The Foreigner, a wild farce by newcomer Larry Shue, listen to the audience packed into New York’s Astor Place Theatre. From start to finish the crowd yelps like hyenas at the story of a shy man who poses as a foreigner so he won’t have to talk to strangers. One evening last fall an explosion in the basement forced the audience outside during the play. They waited in freezing rain for 45 minutes, refusing to leave until they had seen the second act.
Though The Foreigner drew mixed reviews, word of mouth has made this a championship season for Shue, 38. Across the Atlantic Shue’s comedy, The Nerd, which opened in October, has become the all-time top-grossing American play in London’s West End. (Even Charles and Di saw it.) The Nerd, which Shue says is “about a person who makes you want to scratch his face off,” is scheduled to make the jump to Broadway next season.
Shue himself was a nerdy class clown while growing up in Kansas and Illinois. He studied acting at Illinois Wesleyan University, then finagled his way into the Army’s entertainment division so he wouldn’t have to serve in Vietnam. After his discharge he performed for years with his former wife, Linda, at a dinner theater in Rockville, Md. Divorced in 1977, Shue signed up with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. He wrote a successful comedy revue for them and gained a new title: playwright in residence.
Shue takes great pride in the effect his plays have on an audience. “You have tired, neurotic people filing in,” he says, “and you have kids coming out—giggling and flirting.” Happily for the kid in all of us, Shue plans to keep the jokes coming; he says his next play is a comedy “about growing old, death, disease and rock ‘n’ roll.” Sounds like a million laughs.