Fish out of water comedy, The Foreigner

June 12, 2003

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PLATTEVILLE - Many people would relish the opportunity to be a fly on the wall, making themselves privy to private conversations. Unfortunately becoming an insect is impossible. However, pretending to be a foreigner who doesn't speak the language is possible and is also the premise of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville's Heartland Festival play, The Foreigner.

"The Foreigner is a comedy by Larry Shue (who also wrote The Nerd) about a proper Englishman who is terribly shy," said John Hassig, program coordinator of the Center for the Arts and Harry and Laura Nohr Gallery. "To get some rest and relaxation, Charlie - the foreigner - is taken to a Georgia fishing lodge by his friend, Froggy. Froggy tells the other guests that Charlie is from an exotic country and cannot speak the language, thus the guests speak freely in front of him, creating a delightful comedy to be enjoyed by all."

Full of familiar faces, the cast is made up largely of southwest Wisconsin residents. Coleman, of Mineral Point, returns for his second year to the Heartland Festival to play Charlie. Coleman was in last summer's Heartland Festival production of You Can't Take It With You. He also performed a one-man-show of Dickens' A Christmas Carol last December at UWP, which he will reprise this holiday season at Mineral Point's Orchard Lawn.

Benton's School District's general and vocal music teacher, Dan Hemming, will also return to the Heartland Festival this year as David, one of the lodge's guests. Hemming is a UWP alumnus and has been a permanent fixture of area theatre companies. He has participated in 18 shows with the Platteville Community Theatre, 14 shows with UWP, two summers with the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival and a number of other area productions.

Playing Owen, another guest of the lodge, is Tony Hubl of Lancaster. Hubl is also a veteran of the stage, having performed with the Boscobel Area Counsel for the Arts, the UWP theatre department, the Platteville Community Theatre and the Lancaster Community Players. Hubl also performed last summer at UWP in You Can't Take It With You, as the character, Kolenkov.

UWP coordinator of theatre studies, John McCaslin-Doyle, is not only the artistic director for the Heartland Festival, but will also play Ellard, a guest of the lodge who has special needs.

"Ellard and his sister, Katherine, played by Mittie Nimocks, are Georgians who have suddenly inherited a fortune following the death of their father," McCaslin-Doyle said. "I've worked with people with special needs, and they always surprise you, so Ellard is a great character to play with some choice lines."

McCaslin-Doyle referred to Nimocks' character, Katherine, as the heart of the play, along with Charlie. A Mississippi native, Nimocks currently serves as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Education at UWP. She has been involved in theatre since the age of nine, when she joined the Hattiesburg Children's Acting Troupe. In addition to participating in UWP productions, Nimocks has also performed with the Lancaster Community Theatre.

Charlie's friend, Froggy, will be played by Platteville High School drama director and artistic director of the Main Street Player's Theatre Company of Galena, Ill., Mike Willis. Willis performed 12 seasons with the Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival Acting Company and played grandpa in You Can't Take It With You during last summer's festival.

Rounding out the cast is Mary McDonald Gershon as Betty Meeks - the owner of the fishing lodge. Gershon is making her first appearance in the Heartland Festival although she has had roles in several plays at UWP and has appeared in numerous productions at The Grand and Five Flags Theatres in Dubuque. Mary is a retired English/speech teacher who resides in Platteville.

In addition to the actors returning to the Heartland Festival is director Jerri Lee Young (You Can't Take It With You) of Seattle. After a successful season last year, Young was asked to return to direct the festival's comedy again this summer, an opportunity Young eagerly took advantage of.

"I had a great time directing at last year's Heartland Festival, so when they asked me to direct again this year, I was really excited," Young said. "Rehearsals are going great - this is a great group of people to work with - and I'm particularly pleased that the set is already finished. It's practically unheard of to have a set finished this early, so it really puts me ahead of the game."

Heartland Festival set designer Michael O'Brien began designing the set in January, with construction beginning in March. Much of the construction was done by UWP students in O'Brien's stage craft class and other theatre classes. O'Brien joined the UWP faculty in fall 2002 as an assistant professor of theatre. He is the production manager for all three theatre performances of this year's Heartland Festival.

"We're having a great time constructing the set and are luxuriously ahead of schedule," O'Brien said. "There is one challenging spot with The Foreigner, however. One of the gags requires a trap door, but other than that, we're just finishing up the painting."

Also involved in the production are technical director William Ian Auld of Dekalb, Ill., costume designer Marjean McCaslin-Doyle of Platteville, stage manager and UWP student Maryann Martin and lighting designer Jason Jon Anderson from Chippewa Falls.

The Foreigner will be performed at 8 p.m. June 13-14 and June 18-21; and at 3 p.m. June 15 and 22 in the Center for the Arts Theatre. Tickets for The Foreigner are $15 for adults and $8 for students and children under 18 years of age. Tickets are available from the University Box Office, 608-342-1298. Information on other Heartland Festival performances can be obtained through the Heartland Festival website at www.uwplatt.eduhttp://reslife.saf.uwplatt.edu/finearts/heartland.

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