Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner” revolves around comedic and devious deception, reluctant eavesdropping, a bit of science fiction and a healthy dose of Southern charm. Moscow Community Theater opens the farcical but socially relevant comedy this weekend.
Charlie Baker (Sarah Oliver Sipes), a shy English proofreader taking a break from his possibly dying, beloved but adulterous wife, and Staff Sgt. “Froggy” LeSueur (Rhys Colson) check into a small Georgia town hotel run by Betty Meeks (Sandra Shephard), the doting and compassionate host. Depressed and bewildered, Charlie tells Froggy that he just can’t bear talking to anyone. Froggy, choosing to take his words quite seriously indeed, fabricates a new identity for Charlie that paints him as a visitor from a far off, exotic land as yet untouched by English. Charlie is relieved from having to talk to anyone but the conversations he begins to hear among the other guests steadily become more private and even sinister. Friendships blossom, identities come into question and pretending not to understand proves to be a real difficulty.
The show has entertained viewers for decades but for director Aubree Flanery it has a special significance.
“It was (my father’s) favorite play,” Flanery said. “I worked on it twice with him. When he passed away I wasn’t sure I was going to do theater again.” But, “the board at MCT said I could do any show I wanted if I came back and so I thought, ‘what better way to honor dad than to do his favorite show.’ ”
Flanery’s father had been a particular fan of Shue’s playwriting and a supporter of socially relevant comedy in general. “The Foreigner” represented all of those elements.
“This is a laugh out loud comedy; there’re so many jokes in it,” Flanery said. “But it (also) carries a pretty solid message about intolerance and family. It’s socially relevant. When we have Klan marches happening and the far right wing suddenly making a come back I think it’s important to remember that our diversity is our strength and we shouldn’t let it divide us.”
At first glance, the casting of MCT’s production may seem unusual as the show was originally written for five men and two women. In this production, two of the cast members are gender non-binary and another female actor was chosen to play the male antagonist.
“I went into it thinking I was just going to cast whoever read best for the role,” Flanery said.
April Layton originally read for the part of Catherine Simms but Flanery asked her to try for Owen Musser.
“April is just a phenomenal actress … she was the only one that got the real smarminess of Owen,” Flanery said.
The cast has found a great deal of depth in each of the characters they’ve been called on to portray.
“This play is disguised as just a comedy (but) these characters are real people; they all have their own wants and needs,” Colson said. “When we all dive into the script … we find that these are all really complex, deeply written characters. I could’ve just played Froggy as this completely nice British army officer that everything is an adventure for and loves everything but deep inside there’s this need to please everybody,” Colson said.
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