With the recent election of Donald Trump, the US has been thrown into scary times. Our country, seemingly so divided, is plagued by incidents of racism, xenophobia, bigotry, and nationalism almost every day on the news. What we all need is a good laugh, and a good reminder that we need each other more than we think; The Foreigner is just the ticket.
Of course, there's no way that The Rep could have predicted how the election would turn out when they chose this particular play to run at this particular time. The writer, Larry Shue, was a popular Rep actor and playwright in the late 70's and early 80's, and the play saw its world premier at The Rep on January 13th, 1983 -- long before the Donald was even a Republican. The play was a hit -- so much so that it moved Off-Broadway in '84, and became the Best Off-Broadway Production and Best New American Play in '85. It ran at The Rep again in '93, when it became the best-selling production in the history of the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, and yet again in 2003. While there's no arguing the popularity of The Foreigner, it's almost eerie how much it speaks to our current state of affairs.
Taking place in rural Georgia, we meet Staff Sergeant Froggy La Sueur (the amazing James Pickering, celebrating his 43rd season at The Rep) from England, who's been making regular, military visits to this area for years, and is a favorite at the backwoods lodge of Betty Meeks (Linda Stephens). This visit, though, Froggy has brought his old friend and fellow Englishman, Charlie Baker (Matt Zambrano), a shy and bumbling copy editor who is badly in need of some peace and quiet. To encourage Betty and the guests of the lodge to leave him alone, Froggy convinces them that Charlie is a foreigner, and doesn't speak a word of English. Cue the loud, slow talking and hysterical antics!
Three local guests in the lodge round out the cast: the Reverend David Marshall (Marcus Truschinski), who is considering buying the old lodge from Betty, and his fiance, Catherine (Cristina Panfilio), who is responsible for her younger brother, Ellard (Brendan Meyer), after the death of their parents. Also appearing in the lodge is Owen Musser (Eric Parks), the local property inspector, and the epitome of a backwoods, southern Klansman. While Owen can't resist trying to insult and harass Charlie, Betty, Catherine, and Ellard, for reasons of their own, find that Charlie is just the person they need in their lives at that moment. Meanwhile, the once awkward Charlie becomes what his new friends need him to be, and the greatest of foes to his enemies, to the delight of the audience.
Directed by Laura Gordon, who has appeared in over 80 productions at The Rep herself, The Foreigner is exactly what our country needs right now: hysterically funny, yet laced with the very message we all need to hear. As Hamlet said, "The play's the thing." Indeed, this play is "the thing," though nobody involved in bringing this production to The Rep at this moment in time could have guessed just how important of a thing it would be.
The Foreigner runs now through December 18th at The Rep's Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. Tickets are available online at www.MilwaukeeRep.com, by phone at (414) 224-9490, or in person at the Ticket Office (108 E. Wells St. in Milwaukee).
About Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Milwaukee Rep is a nationally recognized company that presents compelling dramas, powerful classics, award-winning contemporary works, and full-scale musicals housed in its three, unique performance venues: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio, and Stackner Cabaret. The Rep also produces an annual production of A Christmas Carol, featuring a World Premier of a new adaptation in 2016, at the historic Pabst Theater. Under the leadership of Artistic Director, Mark Clements, and Managing Director, Chad Bauman, Milwaukee Repertory Theater ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee's rich diversity.