Perry Burton playing ‘Charlie Baker’ and Nick Sepi playing ‘Ellard Simms'; Photography by David Lowes / Art Studio 21

Langham Court Theatre’s upcoming production, The Foreigner, is a perennial comedy favourite. The play centres on two Englishmen staying at a Georgian fishing lodge. One of the men, Charlie, has recently broken up with his wife and is so shy that he does not want to talk to anyone. To save him from having to socialize, the other man, Froggy LeSueur, tells the other guests that he is a foreigner who cannot speak a word of English. Because everybody assumes he cannot understand them, many of the guests begin to let slip their own secrets in front of him. Charlie learns that the wealthy Catharine Simms has become pregnant by Reverend David Lee, a hypocritical preacher. He also learns that Owen Musser, the property inspector, is scheming to take over the lodge and turn it into a Ku Klux Klan meeting house. At the same time Ellard, Catharine’s somewhat slow younger brother is attempting to teach (or reteach) Charlie “proper” English.

Now, that is a lot of plot to cram into a play so we decided to get Toshik Bukowiecki, the director of the upcoming show, on the phone to help us sort it all out. What follows is our interview together, where we talked about his long history with Langham, dealing with subjects like the Ku Klux Klan, and what we can hope to see at Langham’s latest outing.

 

I’d like to start off with a bit of your own history at this theatre. You’re a practiced hand at Langham shows. How many shows have you done at Langham?

If memory serves, this is my 58th show.

 

Did you direct for all of those?

Oh no, I think this is only my 13th or 14th show that I’ve directed there. I’ve actually done just about everything you can do being involved in a show. I’ve produced, in addition to directing. I’ve done set designs, costume design, lighting designs. I’ve acted in shows, too.  I’ve even done upholstery. I’ve been called on for a variety of things over the years. But most of my involvement has been either on stage or working directly on shows as a designer.

 

Right. Now, turning to your current production: The Foreigner, of course, has got quite a pedigree. It won an Obie award and is often produced. Having worked so much on it, what do you think is the play’s appeal?

I think there are some very basic principles attached to this play that never get old and that people always just connect to. The fact that right wins over evil, that the good guys win over the bad, that the underdog comes out ahead. These are all the sorts of things that people tend to support and want to cheer for. There’s also just the sheer comedy of it. I had a very fun conversation with the cast at one point about how much the play made me think of the Wizard of Oz because there were similarities in the characters. I mean obviously the story is entirely different but one of the characters lacks courage, one of them seems to lack heart, one of them is not terribly intelligent, there’s an Auntie Em figure, there’s a “wizard” figure.

 

Interesting. So it has an archetypal quality?

Absolutely. I think in my director’s notes I mention that it’s a very melodramatic format that has all of this comedy added to it. It still has the same appeal that a melodrama had 150 to 200 years ago. I think there are enough universal… I’m not sure if I would say truths… let’s say universal desires involved that it doesn’t really matter how old you are. If you have ever cared for anybody, you find yourself caring for these people.

 

Now the play as I recall it deals with a number of hot button topics. Specifically, I’m thinking of the villains being members of the Klu Klux Klan. Of course it is a comedy so it’s more light-hearted but do you expect any controversy, putting this play up at Langham?

In all honesty I don’t and I hope not, because if people have any qualms they need to actually see the play or at least read it to find out what’s going on. The fact that the Klan is supposed to be this huge powerful organization but gets bested by this handful of sort of rag-tag unarmed people it’s pretty amazing.

 

Did you have to be careful in terms of how you directed it? Did you downplay these issues or did you focus on them?

Well, no. We didn’t actually do either. I think the script is extremely well written from the point of view that you get the message across from the racist characters but it doesn’t actually go into actually preaching racism. In fact the racist characters come off looking pretty bad because of their attitude, so it doesn’t support any kind of awful beliefs by any means.

 

Interesting. In terms, of production: the play is set in Georgia. What time period is the play taking place?

Well it was written in mid to late 1980′s and the script itself just says “the recent past” and that’s where we’re leaving it. I didn’t want to get into a whole ’80s thing. The visibility of the Klu Klux Klan is certainly not what it was at the time the play was written. Even then I think it was pretty much on its way out. Somebody I was talking to about it said that the Klan is still around but it’s not supported and not visible in the way it was. Frankly, I think if we were able to change the Klan to something else – to the Taliban or to some other group that is regarded as “evil” by our current society – the message would remain the same. It’s not a play about the Ku Klux Klan, it’s a play about good triumphing over evil and about people who all appear to be under-dogs or not the promising, glittering people we tend to celebrate being able to come into their own.

 

With famous scenes, such as teaching the “foreigner” how to speak English, will screwball comedy be a highlight of this show, do you think?

Well, again I would say it is built into the script. Just the way the script is written. It’s not a matter of having to focus on it. The comedy is just there. It’s what drives the character of Charlie and how he emerges and brings  everybody else along with him. I’ve talked a lot with the actors about the journeys for these characters. Certainly for the main characters, they all have really wonderful journeys of discovery. It’s one of the joys, part of the appeal of this play: getting to see this feel-good journey happen.

 

Perry Burton playing ‘Charlie Baker’ and Nick Sepi playing ‘Ellard Simms'; Photography by David Lowes / Art Studio 21

Do you have a favourite moment of these journeys in the play?

Let’s see. I don’t think I have a favourite moment. Certainly, the breakfast scene where Ellord first starts to teach Charlie English is one of the most enjoyable for me. So, I’ll go with that as my favourite part.

 

Thank you for this, Toshik. Is there any last thing you’d like to say for those considering coming to the show?

Well, if you’re looking for anything of entertainment that is satisfying this is definitely the show that can do that. It’s the kind of play that you leave with a smile on your face and having felt really entertained. It supports the desire of the human condition to thrive. This does that.

 

- Thomas Stuart