Foreigner: A person who comes from a foreign country; someone who does not owe allegiance to your country.
Things that are foreign are different and unknown. In “The Foreigner” by Larry Shue, Charlie is visiting from England, but everyone in the lodge thinks he does not speak or understand English. Some are accepting while others are resistant to “different”, they see Charlie’s unusual ways as a threat to their own culture.
The Foreigner focuses on bigotry, immigration and xenophobia — the fear of people from other countries. It takes a satirical poke at these issues and uses laughter to show just how ridiculous such ideas and beliefs truly are. It shines a bright light on what it means to be a foreigner and shines an even brighter light on what it means to be a community.
The Foreigner premiered in Milwaukee in 1983, in 1984 it moved to Off-Broadway in New York where it went on to win two Obie Awards, two Outer Circle Awards and was voted the Best Off-Broadway Production and Best New American Play in 1985. In the 34-years since it first opened, even though the political climate has changed, the message of the script is just as relevant.
This is not Menomonie Theater Guild’s first production of The Foreigner either. In 1992, I played “that little half-wit, Ellard Sims” and Jeanne Kussrow-Larson, is back for a repeat performance, as Betty Meeks. This is my all-time favorite show, and I patiently waited 25 years for its return.
During the presidential primaries surrounded by all the drama and rhetoric leading up to the election, I decided the wait is over, our community needs to experience The Foreigner again. I pitched the idea to MTG. I must admit my preference was for someone else to direct the show because I wanted to be in it again, but as I tell my grandchildren, “Remember what Mick and the boys said: ‘You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.’ Sometimes it is better to nurture laughter than deliver it.”
Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSuer brings his good friend, Charlie Baker, to Froggy’s favorite lodge in Georgia. Not appreciated at home, Charlie is depressed and stuck in a drab job. Charlie knows he is boring and wants more than anything to have a personality.
Charlie soon realizes that Georgia is the last place on earth where he wants to be. At first he is paralyzed with the notion of having to talk to the lodge guests. To assure that no one will speak to Charlie, Froggy tells Betty, the lodge owner, that his friend does not know a word of English.
At first against the idea, Charlie is not sure he can follow through with it, but soon he overhears “private” conversations and befriends some of the residents. Pretending not to know English becomes a way for him to help right some wrongs, to develop a personality and to become the interesting person he always wanted to be.
I can still remember the laughter from that 1992 production — and I’ve laughed out loud each and every day of rehearsal, even though I know exactly what is coming next and know most of the lines by heart. So, on behalf of the entire cast, crew and MTG, please come and see the show!