2019 Next Stage Theatre Festival: Foreign Tongue (playinc.)

Foreign Tongue, playing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival, explores immigrant life through the eyes of a born-and-raised Canadian in an upbeat and frothy musical. A young urban professional experiences a stroke and slips into a coma only to awaken five weeks later speaking with an Eastern European accent leaving everyone to believe her an immigrant.  Though the cast is highly talented, I felt that the story and songs fell unfortunately short.

Victoria Houser plays Kathy, a young and ambitious headhunter overwhelmed by holiday pressures that she suffers a stroke and is comatose for five weeks. Waking up in the hospital, she realizes she now speaks with a strong Eastern European accent and no one seems to believe that she’s not a new immigrant, aside from Dr Brooke (Nicholas Rice) who diagnoses her with Foreign Accent Syndrome. With no cure in sight, Kathy is left to her own devices, befriending Visnja (Cynthia Ashperger) from Bosnia who introduces Kathy to her ESL class. Kathy also encounters David (Allie McDonald) who is intrigued and entranced by her accent and falls in love.

The premise behind Foreign Tongue is that everyone should know what it feels like to be a new immigrant, but I don’t feel that this production quite hits the mark. While issues are touched upon — trying to fit in, find work, feel accepted — the frothy and campy nature of this musical leaves the underlying issues feel like after-thoughts, in my opinion.

I found the supporting characters, in particular the ones in the ESL class, felt like caricatures rather than like fleshed out people. I also found the role of David to feel particularly uncomfortable in his fetishization of Kathy with respect to her appearing to be foreign and ‘exotic.’

Foreign Tongue simply did not appeal to me on various levels. I also found the staging too cramped for the number of people in the cast; it felt like they were regularly running into each other in the ensemble numbers. It also seemed that as the cast never actually went off stage and sat off to the side in scenes where they weren’t involved, that some characters were integrated in scenes they didn’t appear to need to be in — like Dr Brooke and David in the ESL class.

But despite the pitfalls of the show, the cast performed it well. Houser has great vocal ability here and her voice handles the songs beautifully. Sometimes her accent seemed to fade in and out, but for the most part it was solid. Equally, McDonald’s performance was also very well executed.

But overall, Foreign Tongue just didn’t do it for me. I do think it needs quite a bit of reworking, with the staging cleaned up, before it becomes polished.


Photo of Jenna Daley and Julius Cho provided by the company