The Top (Under) Dog
Charlie costume design by David Kay Mickelsen
By Kathryn Neves
It’s rare that we repeat a non-Shakespeare play here at the Festival— so right off the bat, you should be able to tell how wonderful we think The Foreigner really is. The last time we showed it, audiences fell in love with Charlie right away. With his adorable awkwardness and his lovable shyness, not to mention his cleverness and wit, it’s hard not to love him! After all, who doesn’t love an underdog?
Underdogs seem to be the favorites in almost everything. Whether it be in football games, reality television shows, or even sitcoms, we nearly always root for the underdog. I mean, what do you think the hipster movement is all about? It’s about discovering underdogs. Hipsters seek out underdogs more than anyone!
And Charlie, in The Foreigner, is most definitely an underdog. He’s the classic bottom of the totem-pole, if you know what I mean. Painfully awkward around friends and strangers, losing in love and in life, and a really strong bad-luck magnet— what else can you ask for in a character like him? But strangely enough, it’s these unfortunate qualities that make us root for him. We all want to see the underdog win sometimes!
Some of the most popular characters in theatre, film, and literature are absolute underdogs. Think Chandler Bing or Charlie Brown or maybe Cinderella or even Falstaff. (Of course, try not to think of the obnoxious underdogs— I’m looking at you, Jar Jar Binks.) But Charlie Baker, the star of The Foreigner, tops them all. He is the best underdog of them all. He’s the top (under) dog, if you will. And why is that? What makes him so great?
The great thing about Charlie Baker is that he overcomes his underdog-ness. He makes it to the top and becomes who he has always wanted to be.
It’s amazing to watch Charlie’s development through The Foreigner. He starts out so hopelessly shy that he can’t even stand to talk to anyone; he would rather be alone, all the time, than say a single word to anyone. It’s because of this that his friend Froggy tells everyone that Charlie doesn’t speak English. That way, Charlie will be left alone. Right? Wrong.
After a few painfully uncomfortable scenes, Charlie starts to peek out of his shell. We see him learn to make a fool of himself, and even have some fun doing it. He makes up nonsense words and starts building confidence in the people around him. Little by little, he comes out of himself. Or maybe he grows into himself. He seems to take joy in being silly for silliness’ sake— and then, of course, all sorts of shenanigans ensue.
Now, I don’t want to spoil the show for you, so I won’t say too much else— but I will say that Charlie, by the end of the play, overcomes everything standing in his way. He faces every single fear and learns to like himself. He stands up for himself and for everyone else, and best of all, he learns— finally— how to really have fun. And that’s why we love him so much. We see Charlie go from an underdog to a winner.
Of course, he still keeps all of his fun and nonsense, and even some of his awkwardness. He wouldn’t be the Charlie we know and love without all that.
It’s not so surprising that we love to see an underdog. It’s the Great American Dream to go from rags to riches; from underdog to overdog. When we watch Charlie grow this way, we get to feel like we can too— we see it’s possible for an underdog to become the alpha in a dog-eat-dog world.
So come see The Foreigner this season at the Utah Shakespeare Festival! You’ll see a crazy romp cramped into a rural fishing lodge; you’ll hear words you’ve never heard and you’ll see a cast of characters so eccentric it’s practically like watching a sitcom. But mostly, you’ll see what everyone wants to see— you’ll see the underdog finally come out on top.