Peggy Sue Dunigan
New! Review

Soulstice takes on “The Foreigner”

By - Nov 1st, 2010 02:14 am
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The beloved Larry Shue found a home at the Milwaukee Reparatory Theater in 1977, to the delight of the city’s audiences, as an actor. In 1979, he was writing frantically and frequently as their Playwright In Residence. Shue’s popular comedy, The Foreigner, premiered at the Rep in 1983, just as Shue’s career as playwright and actor began develop nationally. The Foreigner won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Awards. Tragically, Shue died in a 1985 plane crash.

Shue’s legacy looms large in Milwaukee makes. When Soulstice Theatre opened The Foreigner this weekend, the company had to live up to history and memory. Director Char Manny gathered an intelligent and talented cast on the Marion Center’s third floor auditorium stage celebrates Shue’s characters with undeniable class.

The rural Georgia setting alone recreates a homespun quality to Betty Meeks’ rundown inn, where Sgt. Froggy LeSueur (Randall T. Anderson) brings a desolate Charlie Baker (Al Oldham) to recuperate. Charlie finds himself unexpectedly playing the role of a foreigner unable to speak or understand English. His three-day holiday transforms everyone’s life in unexpected ways. His “foreign” charm encourages misfit personalities meet and help one another. As the script exclaims, “together we are whole.”

Shue knew exactly which humanity to meld together: an older single women, Betty Meeks (Sharon Nieman-Koebert); a single unwed mother-to-be, Catherine Simms (Abby Armstrong); her brother, with his mild mental challenges; Ellard Simms (Joseph Krapf); and Charlie Baker, a geeky, shy science fiction proofreader. Oldham’s Charlie reflects Shue’s expectations with subtle nuances, as he speaks a nonsensical “foreign tongue” and when silent. A breakfast scene with Krapf’s Ellard recreates Laurel and Hardy moments, both funny and poignant, as each man is a foreigner in his own life.

Koebert and Armstrong add feminine allure without overplaying the Southern stereotypes. Armstrong and her long sleek tresses offer an attractive contrast to the unassuming Oldham or her overly religious fiancé, Rev. David Marshall Lee, played by fledging actor Aaron Schricker. When the redneck Owen Musser invites chaos with his bigoted words and plans, Jason Thompson meets the challenge. Proficient acting is crucial to the performance’s success, and Soulstice admirably pulls the production together in this 180-minute evening.

Who hasn’t felt like a foreigner at some time, whether amid a new family or a new place or unfamiliar situation? When lively eccentric personalities join forces, no one suffers alone, and they struggle and succeed together and communicate from the heart. The message comes through in Soulstice’s endearing production of The Foreigner. I believe Larry Shue would smile if he saw it.

Soulstice Theatre presents The Foreigner at the Marian Center Auditorium Theatre through Nov. 13. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales goes to Habitat to Humanity Milwaukee. Click here for information or tickets.

Categories: Theater

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