‘Foreigner’ resonates with local cast director

Actors explain how 1980s play remains highly relevant especially in today’s political, socially-charged climate



From left: Sarah Oliver Sipes as main character Charlie Baker, Andre Szarmach as Rev. David Marshall Lee and Cecily Milliken as Catherine Simms star in “The Foreigner” at Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre on Sunday in Moscow.

CHLOE GRUNDMEIER , Evergreen reporter

Moscow Community Theatre will close its production of Larry Shue’s “The Foreigner,” a politically relevant comedy in two acts, this weekend. The play was presented in memory of director Aubree Flanery’s father, Kyle C. Woods.

Flanery has been involved with theatre for most of her life and her father was always her biggest supporter and hero, she wrote in a director’s note. When she was in college, she worked with her father on a production of “The Foreigner” and it found a place in her heart.

Woods had always been a fan of Larry Shue’s writing, but “The Foreigner,” which originally debuted in the 1980s, was one of his favorite plays of all time, Flanery said. Woods passed away in 2016, so when Flanery was given the opportunity to direct the play at Moscow Community Theatre, she knew she had to dedicate it to her late father.

“The play always resonated so much with me,” she said. “It was one of his favorites, and right now it’s so socially relevant. It discusses ideas of intolerance and white supremacy. I thought it would be a great way to honor Dad with one of his favorite plays in a time that it’s so relevant, maybe even more than when it debuted.”

From left: Cecily Milliken as Catherine Simms, Nathan Palmer as Ellard Simms and Sarah Oliver Sipes as Charlie Baker star in “The Foreigner.”

“The Foreigner” follows the experiences of awkward Englishman Charlie Baker, played by Sarah Oliver Sipes, who is sent to a bed and breakfast for a few days after his friend Froggy LeSueur takes him from his sick, adulterous wife’s bedside. To help Charlie avoid social interaction at all costs, Froggy lies to the rest of the bed and breakfast’s inhabitants when he says Charlie can’t speak a word of English and talking to him will only upset him.

The rest of the characters treat Charlie like a diary: someone they can confide in who doesn’t understand a word they say and won’t judge them for it. They spill their dirty, intolerant secrets regarding the Ku Klux Klan all while Charlie understands every word and pretends not to.

“My role is to be the driving force behind the conflict,” Sipes said. “If I wasn’t there no one would know until it was too late that all of these issues were hidden right under the surface. It’s kind of fun to just be there and be the guy that no one pays attention to, but that makes everything happen.”

Theatre provides an opportunity to discuss world issues in an entertaining way, Flanery said. “The Foreigner,” for example, portrays the Klan and its ideals of intolerance as completely ridiculous as they are in today’s society, she said.

“ ‘The Foreigner’ is a topical comedy that is very timely right now in this political-social climate,” Sipes said. “It’s really important to add a little bit of humor for some people who might be worried. It allows them to laugh off the stress while still talking about the issues.”

Moscow Community Theatre will present “The Foreigner” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and tickets can be purchased at the box office 30 minutes before showtime.

“I think students should come out and see The Foreigner because it is so socially relevant right now about intolerance, but it’s also just downright fun,” Flanery said. “I’ve seen the show every night for two months and I still laugh every time I see it.”