I’ve been talking to friends recently about the “should people still do this show?” question. Does the show in question have a place in the climate of the world, is it still relevant and needed? I was reminded of these conversations quite a bit while watching the Duquesne’s Red Masquers production of The Foreigner. It’s easy to write off The Foreigner, written by Larry Shue, as an outdated piece of theatre, but the direction of this show forces it into a different spotlight than that of, ‘it’s funny because he has an accent.’ Why this show now? At this point, you have to try not to be aware of how immigrants are treated in this country. Under Jill Jeffrey’s direction of this iteration of The Foreigner, it’s impossible to divorce the show’s message from the state of how ‘others’ exist in the west.
I specifically found the casting of this show to be refreshing. As a favorite piece of the American canon, The Foreigner has its roots firmly planted in white America, with the main jokes being that the ‘foreigner’ in question is just some white guy who is putting on a funny accent and speaking gibberish, eventually getting wrapped up in a battle with the KKK. However, this Charlie, (Zach Reed), had something real at stake when being met with otherness. As a man of color, watching him confront the Klan had vastly different connotations, and the audience was audibly stunned during the final scenes of the show. Suddenly this show was brought from the depths of golden era comedy and challenged the audience with difficult truths. In a MAGA world, good old boys and those empowered by a very loud, very anti-immigration figurehead run amok. I was shocked to see a group of college students in full KKK regalia, and I have to question the placement of this choice in the current moment. It felt heart-wrenching, and a palpable tension filled the theatre, yet parts of the scene attempted to be played for laughs. I could barely stand just seeing costumed Klansmen onstage, so the moments of comedy were verging on bad taste. Placing the humor on the ridiculousness of xenophobia fosters a relief from an oversaturated hatred of foreign people in this country, but is it enough to warrant these supremely charged moments? It’s hard for me, a white person sitting comfortably on my couch in a country which caters to me, to call. However, I appreciate this production’s willingness to open the communication for the audience to do so and to discuss relevant topics that affect people in our community.
That all being said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this show. This group of performers is a fast-paced crew of comedians who understand how to work an audience. I commend Reed on the physicality of his character, Charlie, who has the challenge of miming a great deal of the show. His comedic awareness lifted the audience, especially during moments which were a bit out of date. Reed brought a timid sweetness to Charlie, and it was exciting watching him transform into the outlandish hero. Dana Demsko was also a joy to watch as Betty Meeks. In a show full of very funny people, she got the most consistent laughs throughout the night. Her strong acting was the arrow that kept the show upright. The siblings, Catherine and Ellard Simms (Mackenzie Martin and Nate Conaway respectively), were a strong match as well. Martin conjured a deepness to the character in one monologue that was especially moving, striking a different tone than the high-energy humor of the rest of the show. Conaway delivered the simple Ellard beautifully and stirred the audience into a laughing frenzy more than once.
This is a show that sets out to spark a difficult conversation about race and otherness, and it succeeds in doing so with a competent cast of actors. You can catch the final performances of The Foreigner at the Genesius Theatre Saturday the 13th at 8pm and Sunday the 14th at 2pm. For tickets and more information click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews