‘The Foreigner’ is a smart, funny play that addresses racism
June 9, 2015
The decision for the Neil Simon Festival to present Larry Shue’s award-winning farce "The Foreigner" this season was twofold.
"It was selected because it is very funny," said the play’s director, Clarence Gilyard, during an interview with The Park Record. "I also think its timely. It addresses racism, but does it with a broad stroke."
The Neil Simon Festival will bring "The Foreigner" up to the Egyptian Theatre this week from Thursday, June 11, through Sunday, June 14, and Gilyard is looking forward for Park City audiences to see it.
"First and foremost, people will walk out of the theater laughing after seeing the show," he said. "They will also learn about a message about treating people with dignity no matter who they are."
"The Foreigner" won two Obie Awards and two Outer Critics Circle Awards as Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production.
It is a story about two Brits, Charlie Baker, who works for a science fiction magazine and Staff Sgt. "Froggy" LeSueur, of the British Army , who visit a fishing lodge in rural Georgia.
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There, they meet the lodge’s owner Betty Meeks, Rev. David Marshall Lee and his fiancée Catherine.
Baker and LeSueur, who is the play’s title character, also meet Ellard Simms, Catherine’s brother, and Owen Musser, an unabashed member of the Ku Klux Klan, according to Gilyard.
"All of this is put together in a farcical comedy," he said.
Throughout his time working on the play, Gilyard, who has also performed in it, has experienced a deepening discovery of playwright Shue’s script.
"The comedy that is written for the stage is very much about delivering the text and dialog," Gilyard explained. "If audiences hear something funny they will laugh, but they also have to understand the literal nature of a character who says something in the context or out of context of the play in order for it to be funny.
"So, if the actors try to do too much, they can get in the way with the poetry of the script’s language," he said. "This is something that I really strive for and communicate with the actors."
Gilyard learned some important aspects of comedy while working with Andy Griffith on the TV show, "Matlock."
"Those four years were invaluable to me, because Andy was very generous in his instruction about comedy," Gilyard said. "He showed me how important a point of view was and how actors need to be clear and simple, but not dumbed down."
It also helps that the material is solid.
"Larry Shue’s script is brilliant," Gilyard said. "It’s so well written that when you bring young actors to it, you have to, as a director, support them in understanding the writing. You have to make sure they know they will be funny and successful if they do what the writer wants the characters do.
"You have to be relentless in supporting the actors so that the script flows trippingly off their tongues because the lines can’t be merely delivery," he said. "[The script] has to become a relationship between the characters, but also, the audience needs to be in a relationship with what’s happening on stage."
The biggest challenge for Gilyard while working on "The Foreigner" is not being in the production.
"It’s true," he said with a laugh. "I love this play so much, but on Thursday, when it opens at the Egyptian Theatre, I’m done with it. The play will belong to the actors and stage managers."
Another challenge is shortened rehearsal time.
"As it is with all regional theater, we all have to work very hard in condensed conditions," Gilyard said. "We may be a little weary, but we’re all good."
Gilyard’s relationship with the Neil Simon Festival came about the same time it was established 13 years ago, by Richard Bugg, a faculty member at Southern Utah University.
"Richard and I met when he did a guest-starring role on a two-hour episode of ‘Walker Texas Ranger,’" Gilyard said. "We were shooting in Park City and became friends. I’ve been part of the festival for four years now."
The Neil Simon Festival will present Larry Shue’s Obie Award-winning comedy "The Foreigner" at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., through Sunday, June 14. Curtain for Friday and Saturday is 8 p.m. Sunday’s performances will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday’s tickets range from $19 to $29. Tickets for Friday through Sunday are $23 through $35. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.parkcityshows.com .