The Foreigner was first produced at the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Repertory Theatre in January of 1983, and the boisterous laughter it created there made the play an enormous local success. Named by the American Theatre Critics Association as one of the best regional theatre plays for the 1983-1984 season, The Foreigner was subsequently produced Off-Broadway in November of 1984 at the Astor Place Theatre in New York City. Lukewarm responses from the critics failed to quench the play’s enormous audience appeal, and as Laurie Winer reported in a 1988 New York Times article, ‘‘one of the few Off Broadway plays to overcome negative reviews, The Foreigner played 685 performances and fully recouped its $250,000 investment.’’
Because of the extraordinary commercial success of The Foreigner, Shue’s other plays came to the attention of American theatre companies. His earlier farce, The Nerd, had gone from its successful Milwaukee production in 1981 to similarly successful productions in England. It played in Manchester in 1982 and at the Aldwych Theatre in London in 1984, where it earned more money than any other American play on the West End. Two years after Shue’s death, in 1987, The Nerd was produced on Broadway, and eventually his more serious play, Wenceslas Square (1984), became popular as well. These plays are now staples of university, regional, and community theatres all over America.
In 1980, Shue studied with a theatre company in Japan. He developed the central idea for The Foreigner when he discovered that the Japanese would tolerate even his most bizarre behavior (because he was unaware of Japanese social customs), dismissing his inappropriate actions as the conduct of an outsider. The Foreigner remains Shue’s most highly regarded work and is considered the most perfectly realized of his plays.