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The Foreigner

Oct. 15, 2004-Jan. 16, 2005

Lee Tergesen played Owen Musser in "The Foreigner," which ran from Oct. 15, 2004, to Jan. 16, 2005, at the Laura Pels Theatre in New York City.

"The Foreigner," by the late Larry Shue, has been described as "a modern comic farce complete with mistaken identities, surprising plot twists, evil villains, and innocent damsels." Lee played one of the evil villains. His character was Owen Musser, "the mean, suspicious, and slimy Tilghman County property inspector."

Owen appears in about one-third to one-half of the play. His entrance toward the end of the first scene, is noted like this in the script: "[Betty Meeks] has found herself suddenly in the dank presence of Owen Musser. Psychologists tell us to beware of a man with two tattoos. One, he may have gotten one a drunk or a dare. But two means he went back. Owen is a two-tattoo man." 

Betty Meeks is the proprietor of the fishing lodge in rural Georgia where the action takes place. The "foreigner" of the title is Charlie Baker, played by Matthew Broderick in this production. The Laura Pels Theatre Web site described Baker as "a lovable but socially inept Brit who escapes his stressful life by booking a holiday in backwoods U.S.A. He desperately tries to avoid the local yokels by posing as a foreigner who doesn't understand a word of English. But the plan hilariously backfires when he becomes the perfect person with whom all share their deepest secrets and schemes."

In PaperMag's November 2004 Theater Notes, Lee discusses his character and Matthew Broderick's:

"Broderick's character, Charlie, is a fish out of water," says castmember Lee Tergesen. "Initially terrified because he's away from home, and fearing he has no personality, he pretends not to speak English for the first half of the play. But then he starts to develop relationships with the people he's living with, and, out of loyalty, he decides to take action." ... Tergesen's character, Owen Musser, is a local redneck who "has his sights on taking over the bed and breakfast for his own uses, and comes up with a nefarious scheme that's not very well thought out," says Lee. "He thinks he can mess with Charlie, but eventually he has the tables turned on him."

Below are some comments from people who saw the play and posted comments at various places online. At right are official reviews of "The Foreigner."

New York Times reader review:

Oct. 18, 2004: “The Foreigner” is simply good fun, not quite meant to be intellectually stimulating theater: An army officer (Byron Jennings) provides sanctuary to his socially inept British friend (Matthew Broderick) ... by introducing him as a non-English-understanding ...  lodge guest not to be disturbed. The unwittingly openly speak of their private matters around him and naively reveal their true colors to the delight of the playful Brit. The Brit proves his social worth by foiling a plot by the KKK to steal the family fortune. ... The play teases the funny-bone and as the story continuously turns hopelessly dark, Broderick breaks-thru with comic relief time & time again. 

A reviewer of the script, posted at Amazon.com:

[Playwright Larry] Shue is not at all afraid of humor. He is also not afraid of villains, of whom this play has two: Owen and the Reverend, David Marshall Lee. Too often modern playwrights simply make a villain of "society" or some other institution. It is a harder job to create convincing individuals who are evil -- but Shue does this marvelously. ... The villains ... are so well-drawn that they seem like real people rather than like mere mouthpieces for the Klan. Shue had extraordinary talent, and I would like to thank him for leaving us "The Foreigner," a comedy good for all time.

Seeing "The Foreigner" 

Nov. 13, 2004, was the momentous night I saw "The Foreigner" with a group of about a dozen fellow fans -- Lee's Peeps -- who I'd previously only "met" online. We also had the very great pleasure of having drinks and a late dinner with him afterward. I'll just say that the comedy continued well after the play!

As for "The Foreigner": Lee's part in Act 1 was kind of short, and it seemed everyone in our group was anxiously waiting for the action to pick up after intermission. And indeed it did. There were several scenes that were side-splitting. 

Lee had a really tough part to carry off, because he had to be funny, but he also was supposed to be a mean, scary guy. I can see why the part appealed to him -- it's quite a demanding, fine line. And, as he noted in those comments in the video clip, there's a point when the jokes start to rain down that's so exhilarating. I think that happens in a scene with Matthew Broderick, who is menacing him with gibberish like "The bees come down." His performance really comes alive then. It seems like he feeds off the audience reaction as well as his co-star's performance.

When the ensemble is together on stage, Lee looks -- appropriately -- so much more physically imposing than the rest of them. Even though he's being made the butt of jokes, it's obvious that he's still dangerous.

Click for larger view
(Photo of poster taken by Anne)

Collage of souvenirs 
from "The Foreigner"

or 800x600:

Video Clip

Opening night 
from Broadway.com

Reviews of
"The Foreigner"

New York Times,
Nov. 8, 2004
A top-drawer supporting cast.

Hartford Courant,
Nov. 14, 2004
Lee Tergesen makes a perfect adversary as the tattooed Owen with his spat-out hatreds and AC/DC belt buckle. The high points ... include the first confrontation between the bullying but pusillanimous Owen and a resourceful and playful Charlie. In this unforgettable scene, Broderick nimbly capers on the furniture, as Charlie uses his newly learned English (plus his hoard of sci-fi fantasy) to make Tergesen's Owen cower at the alien threat and a swarm: "Bees Come Down."

New York Post,
Nov. 8, 2004
...a menacing, tattooed property inspector (Lee Tergesen).

Nov. 7, 2004
The Roundabout's diverting new production, with a dynamite cast led by Matthew Broderick and Frances Sternhagen, provides more than a few laughs and a very good time. ... Jennings, Huff, and Lee Tergesen (as the extremely corrupt property inspector Owen Musser) are also first-rate.

Nov. 7, 2004
Called on to play villains, Huff and Tergesen comply with more grace than the parts deserve.

Associate Press,
Nov. 8, 2004
"The Foreigner" ... knows how to make the most out of genuine goofiness.

Journal-News, Nov. 8, 2004
The subplot involves sinister doings by the play's loudmouth villain, Owen Musser (Lee Tergesen), who is in collusion with a fundamentalist minister named Reverend David Marshall Lee (Neal Huff), to establish a "Christian white nation ... the most powerful Christian force on earth!" The play builds to a violent confrontation with Musser and Lee, who are members of the Ku Klux Klan and who ultimately show up in sheets.

Variety, Nov. 7, 2004
A capable cast captained by ever-amiable Matthew Broderick in a puckish turn provides a steady trickle of laughs but not much sustenance in the Roundabout's revival of "The Foreigner."

Newsday, Nov. 8, 2004