As previously noted, the Station’s summer season seems to have two common threads: plenty of humor and socio-political relevance. Director Thom Schnarre reflected that “the [Celebration Company’s] selection committee saw our need to laugh this summer,” but that “race and immigration and how we treat those with differences is at the heart of this work.” That’s quite the mashup, but the thirty-five year-old play by Larry Shue states the setting is “a current spring”, so this production brings the staging forward in time, and tellingly, a lot of it is still pertinent.
The Foreigner is the tale of a man on vacation from a pretty dismal situation. Englishman Charlie Baker’s partner is suffering from cancer but has given him permission to take some time for self-care, and his friend Froggy has decided they’ll venture to Georgia, USA, to stay in a fishing lodge. Feeling guilty and unable to deal with strangers and small talk, Baker convinces Froggy to tell the other lodgers that Baker doesn’t speak a word of English. Trusting that he won’t understand or be able to repeat it, the other lodgers find themselves trusting Charlie in a way they probably wouldn’t otherwise. Hijinks ensue.
It’s an interesting and unique setup for a play, which promising a satisfying journey even if we can probably imagine many of the roads it will travel down. Since having a mostly-silent protagonist is so unusual, I gave William Anthony Sebastian Rose II a chance to voice his opinions, as well as talking more to director Thom Schnarre.
[Editor’s note: this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity]
Smile Politely: Were you hoping to be cast in the lead, which is a mostly-silent role?
William …Rose II: When I first read the play and realized how reliant this character is on just his reactions to situations I could not have been more excited about the idea! This show is so heavily reliant on my reactions to situations rather than my actual words and that was what interested me the most; in many ways it is the polar opposite of my last show which was very emotionally heavy and wordy. That’s my favorite part of acting – having the opportunity to immerse myself in such vastly different roles, becoming such extraordinary characters, and figuring out the best way to navigate the landscape of their stories.
SP: What made you think of William Rose for this role? Are things proceeding the way you thought, or has the creative process gone in other directions?
Thom Schnarre: William is a physical actor with emotional depth. Charlie Baker’s role is expressed mostly through his expressions. For much of the first act he literally has no words, and William can tell a story without words. He also charms an audience. He’s very personable on stage and the audience roots for him from the moment he first enters the scene, so physicality and likability are definite factors in casting the talented Mr. Rose.
Conceptually, I also wanted to explore a foreigner of color in this production. Typically, the role is cast with a Caucasian actor, but there’s no text that suggests that limitation. Charlie’s forced silence takes on a new depth in William’s hands. When we discussed this, we both felt the factor of racial difference was implicit throughout the piece and having a racially blended cast makes those issues a lot more complex and real for the audience. It’s very satisfying to see he and fellow actor, Jace Jamison turn the tables on a bumbling KKK chapter, and their triumph over their foes brings a new joy to the proceedings.
SP: What kind of ideas did you have about the ways the role would challenge you? Are you finding those ideas to line up with reality, or have there been unexpected developments?
Rose: For this role I find myself in a very peculiar area in regards to challenges. From the accents I have to apply, to the physicality of the comedy, to the fact that I am for a great deal of the play mute. The biggest challenge I have is to remember that, while I’m having such a fun time on stage playing with the characters ins and outs, there are still certain boundaries. I get to be ridiculous and over the top in comedic ways I’m not used to reaching, but while I’m enjoying the trip I can’t allow myself to become too immersed and lose focus and ruin the story.
SP: Any favorite rehearsal or cast moments?
Schnarre: I’ve loved watching this talented cast blossom and grow into their roles. Chris Taber has a keen eye for the emotional legitimacy of a character. Shawna Smith has a feisty integrity as Catherine, and makes her a powerful woman. Matt Hester and Jace Jamison are both actors and humans I admire and both give their usual strong performances with a smart sense of humor, and Jon Faw is both charming and smarmy as the good reverend. Lastly, Evan Seggebruch has really made poor bullied Ellard a three dimensional character who isn’t just a dumb joke. I think Evan has really found Ellard’s heart and dignity in his performance. This cast breathes life into their characters, and it’s wonderful to watch them evolve and play!
SP: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers about The Foreigner?
Schnarre: One of the joys of seeing a play or musical in a small venue like The Station is the small details you can observe. In The Foreigner, we have small reminders of the overlapping of the past and the present. A character wears a Trump campaign hat and another reads a magazine with Richard Nixon on the cover. Catherine’s hasty engagement and unexpected pregnancy has her thumbing through vintage marital images with Lady Diana, Princess Grace, and JFK Jr.’s bride on the covers of each publication. The set is also decorated with an assortment of taxidermied animals to reflect the predatory nature of 2017. I always love noticing that type of attention to detail, and I hope the audience appreciates it as well.
Rose: What else can I say? This show is a great story. It’s fun and a little bit absurd and it really has the ability to make us all laugh at how sometimes blind we can be to other cultures. How much we can miss when we aren’t paying attention and make generalized assumptions. In the words of my current alter ego, “Blasny Blasny!” If you don’t know what that means, I suppose you should come and find out.
The Foreigner opens this Thursday, June 29th and runs through July 15th with every show beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday or $15 on Friday and Saturday, cash or check only. Reservations can be made online or by calling (217) 384-4000 and leaving a message.
Image of William Anthony Sebastian Rose II by Scott Wells