BWW Interviews: THE FOREIGNER's Hugh Adams
Georgia Ensemble Theatre recently presented a production of the Larry Shue classic play THE FOREIGNER, as previously reported by BroadwayWorld.com. THE FOREIGNER uses every device in the comedy storehouse to make audiences laugh hysterically. Charlie’s shyness renders him helpless in conversation – so when a friend covers for him by telling the other guests in a rural Georgia mountain lodge that he is an exotic foreigner and speaks no English, Charlie ends up hearing more than he should.
BroadwayWorld got the chance to talk to the show's lead actor, Hugh Adams, about his time playing Charlie in THE FOREIGNER, his theatre experience, and delivering nonsense monologues.
Can you give readers a quick synopsis of the show?
Basically, it’s about Englishmen who go to this remote Georgia lodge somewhere South of Atlanta, close to an army base where one character, Froggy, is training new recruits which he does once a year. He brings along his friend, Charlie, who is very shy and introverted, and has a hard time talking. When Charlie finds out he’s going to be left alone while Froggy goes to the base, he panics, so, Froggy works it out for Charlie to act like he doesn’t speak English. Charlie then hears some things he shouldn’t and hilarity ensues. It keeps getting bigger, broader, and as a result, Charlie becomes kind of a touchstone for everybody coming into their own, which is a lot of fun.
So how would you describe your role of Charlie?
Charlie is so much fun, and really all the characters are, because they change so much during the course of the play. And Charlie, as it starts out is so introverted and has a hard time talking with anyone. Well, oddly enough, in the made-up foreign language that he winds up adopting, he is able to converse quite freely. He even winds up telling stories, and that’s tremendous fun. All the residents of the household change and react off each other. It really is a great ensemble show - there’s not any bad parts at all, they’re all so much fun. Even the villains get to have a great time.
So, is playing him unique for you, or is it similar to any parts you’ve played before?
Well, he’s pretty unique, only because you don’t get too many opportunities to have this bizarre amalgam of foreign languages to react to various things. And that’s one of the most unique things about this show. A lot of people assume that Charlie’s just going to be mute and he’s not going to say anything but it doesn’t turn out that way, which is terrific fun. And it is, I think a really underrated show. It has so much heart and it’s so sweet. There are so many unique things about it The audience has been so responsive with it, and it’s a joy.
Do you play a lot of parts in farcical comedies?
Well, yeah, I sometimes do wind up doing quite a few farces. I guess if you have any aptitude for physical comedy and outrageous things that you’ll tend to wind up doing farces, which I don’t mind, they’re tremendous fun. The director, Jimmy Donadio and I have worked together several times, and have had a lot of fun doing farces. The whole thing about doing farces is the stakes are usually so high, and the situations so bizarre, that it can’t help but be a great ride to get on once it starts off.
What part of playing this role do you like the most?
You know, oddly enough, it would be listening. And Charlie gets a wonderful opportunity to listen throughout most of the show, when everything is unfolding in the house. And that’s always been one of my favorite things. It’s such a good company, and I get to watch my friends do these wonderful parts as well, and see what’s going to happen with it, that’s immensely satisfying.
For your long “Havnie Skeevnie” nonsense monologue, how scripted is that?
That particular story is farily scripted, but it starts off with the nonsense language on one side, and the first couple of lines basically say, “Once upon a time in a little town of Marydew,” and then it is up to you on how to go with it. What’s fun about it, is how close the words are to actual words. Looking at it on the page, you think, “That’s gibberish.” But then you start going, “Dats neeskie cheelren,” and you think, “that’s ‘the little children,’ oh my goodness!” And that’s just tremendous fun, and it suddenly takes a life of its own too, where you’re speaking gibberish, and all sorts of things start coming out.
That’s awesome. So, for your scene with Ellard, where you’re eating at the table together and doing everything at the same time, how much of that do you change up?
Well, I know Bryan Mercer, who plays Ellard, and it was important for us to make sure it didn’t feel like a bit, that it was actually being played out. At first they realize they are eating in the same manner, and it just kind of balloons out from there. And I’d say the steps of it have definite bullet points that we are hitting as we go, but we discover new things all the time. One of them was when the glass falls down, we reached over and realized both of us were bent over, and it became like this combat sabotage thing. We’re trying to ease back in our chairs, like, “Who’s gonna move?” and it does kind of develop a life of its own. It’s also streamlined in such a way so you don’t go on for thirty minutes doing it. But the play’s wonderful in that way that it does allow some spur of the moment, what’s happening right now stuff. And that’s fun for the audience; it’s fun for us.
What’s your favorite part of the show?
Wow, you know, well, this may sound like a cheat, but one of my favorite parts of the show is hearing the reaction of the audience. It’s audible, and sometimes when you’re doing dramas, or even light comedies, there’s a, “oooohh” or very light noise from the audience, but with this the audience is figuring out what’s happening in the house along with Charlie, and those are some of my absolute favorite moments as the discoveries happen and as characters get to open up and discover new things and bring out wonderful things in each other.
Now, what was your first role in the theatre?
Actually it was in high school. I tried out for a show called The Diviners and got cast and had a ball and just kept going from there. I was playing sports initially, and just kind of felt directionless, going, “Well, I guess maybe I’ll run track, or do something in college, I’m not sure.” And then this kind of happened, and it was like, “Wow, this is unlike any other.” It was a great experience and then it just kind of went from there, and then on into college, and so on and so forth.
So what prompted you to audition, if you were on this sports track?
Oh, well I actually was asked as a favor to help on a production of Wonderful Town that they were doing, and I was like, “Sure, why not?” The director asked me to read and we wound up having a great time with it. One of my favorite memories of that show was sitting behind the set during the run of the show, and it was one of those magic moments where you’re sitting there just being fascinated, thinking, “Ok, there they’ve made their entrance, and oh the song started,” I also thought listening to the audience was a really wonderful thing.
Was there a time when you knew you wanted to do theatre for the rest of your life, or was it kind of gradual?
Well, I certainly knew if it were possible that would certainly be what I would love to do. And I’d gotten a scholarship for college through it, and after I graduated, I was extraordinarily fortunate and got a tour right out of college. I have been so so very fortunate being able to continue with that.
What is your dream role?
Wow, dream role… I think, and here’s another cop-out, as far as dream roles go, I think almost many roles are dream roles when you’ve got a great company and a great director. Either friends or colleagues or folks that you’ve wanted to work with and not had a chance to, any time that comes along, it makes for a very special experience. As far as singular dream roles, I’ve always had fun doing the quick-change shows. I did Mystery of Irma Vep with Actor’s Express, and at Theatre in the Square I did Stones in His Pockets, those shows are always fun, and there’s always a new one coming up. They’re a fun stretch, they’re fun for the actors, they’re fun for the audience. But really, just working with people you enjoy and doing the best that you can, that’s always a dream role.
What’s been your favorite role that you have played?
I don’t know that I can actually say one, but Mystery of Irma Vep was a wonderful experience; I had a wonderful time with that. I also had a wonderful experience doing Crucible, and again, it’s another show that really illicits those reactions from the audience, gasps and breath stops, and that’s always wonderful. I had a great time doing Sisters of Swing which was a story of the Andrews sisters, and it has great music of course. There’s a live band with a bandstand that’s up on the stage and I was the guy that they would run into - Danny Kaye or Bing Crosby, or whoever, so that was a blast to do too.
So do people in your family act?
Actually, I have a great uncle who was a professional square dance caller and he was on a lot of ‘70s dramas like Knots Landing as a square dance caller! It was the most bizarre thing. It was very funny, so I guess that would probably be the closest.
How did you get your first taste of live theatre?
Probably in school when they would bus us to the ALLIANCE THEATRE or something to see a show, that would probably be the first memories I have of that. They would often do that with Shakespeare plays. I remember seeing Julius Caesar there, and I remember seeing sword and sorcery fantasy children’s theatre there that had a lot of effects and it was a lot of fun. But I don’t know that it necessarily sparked initially when I was young. I always looked forward to the trips, but, at a certain point, you ask “Can you even do that? Is that something you can do for a living?” So I don’t know that it occurred to me at the time, but I certainly enjoyed it.
Where did you go to college and in what ways were you involved in theatre?
I went to Gainesville College and Brenau College. They basically have the Gainesville Theatre Alliance (GTA) up there, which is still going strong. I had a great experience there and my senior year was actually the last year before Jim Hammond took over. We were the only college in Georgia at the time that went to the American College Theatre Festival in Washington D.C. which was an immense honor and tremendous fun. Tracy, who plays Cathy in The Foreigner, is also a GTA alum, so it really is a small world.
What has been your most embarrassing moment on stage?
Well, there was one that was pretty scary in Terra Nova, because the first act ends in a freeze which creates the photo of Scott’s party at the North Pole. So we’re all posed like that and frozen for quite some time while there’s a monologue to finish the act. Well, right before that, the character that I played, Oates, had a run-in with another character who has sliced his hand on a runner and hidden it from everybody and has gotten gangrene now and is slowing up the party. He swats his hand, and an altercation comes, and he pulls Oates down into the snow, and everything. Well, this particular time when I got pulled into the snow. I landed flat against my shoulder, and it popped out of socket, so it completely dislocated. So of course I’m lying there thinking, “Oh no… We’ve got to freeze, and my shoulder’s dislocated.” And while that is running through my head, Michael, the other actor, comes running to me and says, “Oh, it’s not anybody’s fault!” And when he came and got me and shook me, I don’t know how or why, it actually popped my shoulder back into place. Otherwise, I would have had to go to the hospital and have them put it back into joint during intermission. I don’t know if they would have canceled the show, I’m not sure. After that I couldn’t lift it very high, so my range of motion wasn’t great, but I could finish the show and no one knew. So I’m sitting there in the freeze at the end of the act going, “I can’t believe all that happened in the course of just a couple seconds.” So that was a pretty bizarre one.
What else do you have coming up after The Foreigner?
Yeah, I’ve got another project with a friend of mine that we had done quite some time ago called Now There are Three Lepers which is as bizarre a show as you might think. It’s basically a take-off of The Three Tenors so you’ve got these gentlemen in tuxedos and nice stands set up and full orchestra in the back, except of course they have leprosy and they have a very skewed idea of what “normal” is. So they’re trying to raise awareness for their bizarre affliction which winds up being much more than leprosy. It’s fun and the audiences have really enjoyed it, so we’re probably going to be doing that one again.
Next, The Georgia Ensemble Theatre presents the high energy barn-burner of a musical Ring of Fire: the Johnny Cash Musical Show (April 12-29, 2012) directed by GET Artistic Director Robert J. Farley. Visit www.get.org for more information and to purchase tickets.
The Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Conservatory provides professional theatre productions and arts education to the north metro Atlanta area. The Company annually produces five mainstage productions, as well as two Theatre for Youth productions and year-round classes for all ages. Artistic Director Robert J. Farley was recently named the recipient of Kennesaw State University’s Flourish Award for his leadership in the arts in metro Atlanta.