“The Foreigner” intrigues with web of lies

A well-intentioned but socially awkward Brit, an emotionally troubled ex-debutante, an overzealous innkeeper and a couple of covert Klansmen masquerading as a property inspector and a reverend. These are just some of the compelling characters that comprise the quirky cast of Veg S.O.U.P.’s staged reading of “The Foreigner.” Set in a rural lodge in 1980s southern Georgia, the plot follows the escapades of Englishman Charlie Baker, played by senior Haider Murtaza, brought into the United States by his exuberant friend “Froggy” LeSueur, played by senior Michael Kedenburg, in an attempt to assuage Baker’s marital woes.

Naturally introverted and in a state of emotional distress, Baker claims that he would be unable to speak with anyone for the duration of the trip to address the dilemma. LeSueur concocts a scheme in which Baker assumes the persona of a native of an exotic country who doesn’t know the English language, relieving Baker of any and all social obligations.

Though initially opposed to the fabrication, Baker quickly and unexpectedly finds himself privy to a private and emotional conversation between two of the other residents of the lodge and feels he has no other choice but to perpetuate the ruse to save face.

And with Baker’s role as the “Foreigner” firmly cemented within the household, the play truly takes off. The other guests of the lodge quickly become accustomed to freely discussing their thoughts either directly to Baker or in his presence, from the nostalgic musings of Southern belle Catherine Simms, played by senior Erin Girard, to the quiet indignation of Simms’ simple-minded younger brother Ellard, played by junior Brodie Guinan, to the devious plotting of Catherine’s husband David Marshall Lee and his racially insensitive associate Owen Musser, played by freshman Kevin Raleigh and sophomore Jeremy Jackson, respectively.

As Murtaza himself puts it, “It’s all about the secrets.”

As a work of theater, “The Foreigner” is a pretty impressive feat. Considering that the entire cast and crew has had just under three weeks to bring this reading from the drawing board to the stage with spring break thrown directly in the middle of the process, the progression thus far is commendable.

The play’s technical elements are fairly rudimentary but help to emphasize the action onstage, as the focus of attention and the play is very much supported by the strength of its ensemble.

While Murtaza’s role as the Foreigner technically qualifies as the play’s lead, the supporting cast more than holds its own and keeps the action lively and engaging. This characteristic balancing is in fact part of what drew the play’s director, senior Benjamin Bergstrom, to the play in the first place.

“It is such an ensemble piece,” he said. “Everyone is used a lot and everyone is hysterical; [every character] gets a chance to be really, really funny.”

The only noteworthy hindrance of the production – apart from some earnest yet largely inconsistent accents – is the presence of the scripts, which seems to hinder some of the physicality and occasionally instigates bouts of stilted acting. To the cast’s credit, this is in large part due to the nature of staged readings themselves and an unavoidable crutch given the relative time allotted for this piece. The cast’s cumulative energy and ability to play off one another so seamlessly creates a genuinely funny and worthwhile performance.

“The Foreigner” will run for one night only at 7 p.m. on Thursday April 3 in the Robert Sinclair Black Box Theatre. Tickets are $4 and will be available at the door and the Brodie Box Office.