BWW Preview: THE FOREIGNER at Theatre Baton Rouge
Sometimes when we vent, all we want is for someone to listen...and never repeat what we say. That is why people flock to Charlie, the titular character in Theatre Baton Rouge's production of Larry Shue's "THE FOREIGNER."
Directed by Travis Hedges Williams, this farce focuses on the difference between what people say in private and also when ears are burning. Staff Sgt. "Froggy" LeSueur (Robbie Wilson) of the British army arrives at a lodge in rural Georgia with his friend Charlie Baker (Ronald Coates), a shy Englishman. The lodge is in immediate danger of being condemned, and the proprietor Betty Meeks (Kathy Sevin) is desperate to avoid losing her establishment. At the same time, Charlie doesn't want to be bothered by the other guests, and, to avoid everyone, he pretends he doesn't speak English. Taking the explanation as fact, the lodge's guests quickly begin revealing their secrets, and Charlie soon discovers scandal among the residents, which becomes the source of this comedic jewel.
"It's really considered one of the funniest shows in theatre I would say," Williams said. "First debuted in the mid-80s and it's just a true classic. I've actually been surprised just how many people who have come up to me and said, 'Oh you're doing The Foreigner, I love that show.' And then they can quote it to me. So that's really something. I think it's a show that really sticks with people."
Written by American playwright Larry Shue, "THE FOREIGNER" premiered at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 1983 and then opened off-Broadway in New York City in 1984. It received two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards. According to Williams, the beautiful thing about the show is that it's held up extremely well.
"For a 30-year-old script, it's still really solid," Williams said. "The only real major change is that we've set it in modern day. If you didn't know that it was supposed to be in the 80's you wouldn't recognize it. It was only a few references here and there that had to be updated. All of the things that show is discussing are still relevant issues."
The TBR stage is no stranger to Williams as one of the theatre's most seasoned actors, but this time Williams is taking the reigns as a TBR director for the first time.
"I had expressed an interest years ago in directing, and it finally came around that there was the right show and the right time," Williams said. "TBR's Managing Artistic Director Jenny Ballard asked me about a year ago if I would be interested in this and I said absolutely. I really enjoy the show, and I think it's a fun piece to do."
At the core of the show is an abundantly talented cast of seven actors who are "very funny, very talented, very dedicated." The production features Ronald Coats, Robbie Wilson, Kathy Sevin, Jeremy Skupien, Victoria Hill, Anthony Bailey and KNick Moore. TBR fans will recognize Coates from the multiple roles he has played, but this performance is a considerable challenge due to reciting Shue's made-up gibberish, right down to the script requiring Charlie to tell a story in his "native language."
"Ronald's role is very interesting since the premise is that his friend Froggy tells the residents of the lodge, 'Oh he doesn't speak English, leave him alone,'" Williams said. "Charlie basically goes mute for a large section of the first act. So, he doesn't have any lines, however, once people start speaking to him and he has to speak in a made-up language, the lines he does have are very bizarre."
Coates is not alone in providing the funny, as the production takes the entire cast and puts them through an obstacle course of laughs. And after a month of rehearsal, Williams is still laughing at it, which he says is a good sign.
"Farce is a very hard genre to write, and I think Larry Shue, our playwright here, has done a masterful job of balancing, setting up the jokes and paying off the jokes and taking them new levels," Williams said. "It's a real piece of art. And it's just entertaining. At the end of the day, there's something to be said about being able to make people laugh for two hours straight."
"THE FOREIGNER" will run from April 21-May 7. Performances will be Thursday-Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons 2 p.m., with an additional matinee on Saturday, April 29. Adult tickets are $2; student tickets are $20. To purchase tickets or for more information, please contact the box office at 225-924-6496 or visit theatrebr.org.