Welcome to the first week of Plays for Players!
I decided to start with more of an esoteric one (I’ll save the heavy-lifters like Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill, and Chekov for later on, when I’m a little more confident in this endeavor.) The play is The Foreigner by Larry Shue.
About the Author
Larry Shue’s story is both interesting and tragic. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and grew up in Kansas. He attended Illinois Wesleyan University, where he graduated cum laude with a BFA. He then joined the army to fight in the Vietnam war. After the war, he came back to the US to be an actor and playwright. He was making marks on many stages with his acting, and had two critically-acclaimed plays: The Nerd, which premiered on the West End and then made its way to Broadway, and The Foreigner, which premiered Off-Broadway and won many awards, signifying a promising career ahead of him. Then, he was killed in a plane crash at the age of 39. A heartbreaking loss.
Why I Read
I decided to read The Foreigner because a friend of mine had told me about Larry Shue and his tragic past. My friend briefly described the premises to both of his plays, and they sounded great to me. The first one that I found was The Foreigner, so I got started.
About the Play
Charlie, a man with severe social anxiety, finds out that his adulterous, shrewish wife may be dying.
He has sunk into a depression because, although she does not love him, he desperately loves her. She has been trying to convince him to get out of town so that she can continue cheating on him in peace. His best friend, Froggy, tries to convince Charlie to take a vacation to ease his depression, but Charlie does not want to go anywhere, especially if it’s a place where he doesn’t know anyone, on account of his shyness.
So, Froggy brings Charlie to a house belonging to a friend of his out in the middle of rural Georgia.
In order to make Charlie feel more comfortable, he tells the house’s inhabitants that Charlie is foreign, and therefore does not speak English. This creates quite a stir, because the characters who live here have never been outside of Georgia; therefore, they have never met a foreigner before. The woman who owns the house lavishes over him because she loves having someone to take care of, and is constantly yelling at him, as if he is deaf and not foreign. The other characters have private conversations in front of him because he’s so quiet that they don’t realize he’s there, and poor Charlie has to come up with a nonsense language in order to play his part as a foreigner.
The genius of it, though, comes from the tender undertones underneath the kookiness.
One of the characters, Ellard, is not the sharpest tool in the shed. He is constantly being blamed for things that he did not do, and is treated condescendingly, but doesn’t quite realize it. However, he amazes everyone by “teaching” Charlie how to speak English. I was actually laughing out loud at parts with the language he has to invent, and the way he pretends to learn English.
**Caution – minor SPOILERS ahead**
It goes off the rails a little bit at the end with some chaos involving the KKK and a crazy, Marx Brothers-esque plan for the characters to save themselves from the terrible group in the white robes. Despite it getting a little ludicrous, I still had fun reading it.
This play is simple and easy to read. The message is clear; be nice. Don’t be racist. Take care of each other. All things that I, personally, find to be important.
Charlie Baker (lead)
A shy and meek editor for a science fiction magazine. His adulterous wife is sick, and he is depressed because he still loves her, despite her escapades. He is taken to a lodge in Georgia to get away for a little while and ease his depression, so he pretends that he is foreign so as not to have to talk to anyone.
Sgt. Froggy LeSueur
Charlie’s best friend. A British army man whose job it is to teach how to use explosives. His goal is to get Charlie to see that his wife is not a good person, and that he deserves to be treated better.
Elderly widow who owns the lodge where Charlie vacations. She is sweet and maternal, and loves caring for Charlie, especially since she thinks he is helpless and can’t understand a word they’re saying. She works hard to maintain the house, and loves every minute of it.
Rev. David Marshall Lee
Catherine’s fiance. That charismatic and kind man that everyone loves, but with dark intentions. He is secretly a member of the KKK, which he reveals to Charlie, thinking that Charlie can’t understand him. He often does things that Betty doesn’t like and blames them on Ellard, such as taking one bite out of an apple and throwing it away. He is after the Simms’ family fortune.
Fiance to Rev. David Marshall Lee. Genuinely kind and sweet, but there is a strain on her engagement. Devotedly takes care of her younger brother, Ellard, and is just as sweet and nurturing to Charlie.
Dim witted, but kind boy. Younger brother to Catherine. Because of his lower intelligence level, he gets blamed for things he did not do. He is the heir to the family fortune, if he can prove to Catherine that he’s smart enough to “handle it.” Up until Charlie enters the picture, he has not proven that, but, when he starts to “teach” Charlie English, the tables start to turn.
Friends with David. Member of the KKK, racist, bigoted, and violent. He wants Charlie gone, because he does not like foreigners.
Let me know if you’ve read this play, and, if so, your thoughts on it!
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My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am in actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.