The small-town Georgians bring all of their problems to Charlie.

They're told he can't speak English, so he's the perfect one to get their complaints. After all, a person who can't understand won't repeat what you're saying, right?

But Englishman Charlie Baker wants to escape problems, especially his own. That's why he travels to Georgia and that's where Theatre Baton Rouge begins the telling of Larry Shue's comedy, "The Foreigner."

The show opens Friday, April 21, and is a TBR favorite.

"It's been done several times here," says director Travis Williams. "When I was a teenager, I even auditioned for the part of Ellard when Baker Little Theatre did it."

Williams didn't get the part, but now he's delving into all the characters as he steps up as a first-time director.

The story opens with Charlie Baker's meeting with old friend Sgt. Froggy LeSeur at a resort lodge in Georgia. Charlie's wife is ill, and he seeks a reprieve from his ensuing depression through a short trip.

His plan is to find solace. He wants to be left alone to gather his thoughts, so Froggy tells the lodgers that Charlie doesn't speak English.

"Froggy thinks that if people believe Charlie can't speak English, they won't talk to him," says Ronald Coats, who plays Charlie. "But the opposite happens. People start talking to him, and Ellard starts teaching Charlie English."

Ellard Simms, played by Anthony Bailey, is a young boy who everyone assumes is mentally challenged. But Charlie sees how bright Ellard really is. And Ellard teaches Charlie it's OK to be lighthearted.

"The play shows us that the characters are all foreigners to each other," Coats said.

Everyone is entrenched in his or her own problems and secrets, and Charlie becomes privy to it all.

There's the heiress, Catherine Simms, who's reluctantly engaged to the charming Rev. David Marshall Lee, who has a dark side. Ellard is Catherine's younger brother, and she's hoping that she can leave the money to him if he proves smart enough to handle it.

Rounding out the supporting cast are Betty, the widowed, nurturing lodge owner, and Owen, a racist whose scheme is to close the lodge and turn it into a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan. 

"The Foreigner" opened off-Broadway in 1984, not making its Broadway debut until a decade later. It's the winner of two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards and is now considered a staple for both amateur and professional theaters.

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.