MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) – The board of directors of The Masquers, Inc. historic community theater has decided to cancel its production of the comedy “The Foreigner” because of the coronavirus and developments that push the play’s content to some prominence.
The play by Larry Shue was originally scheduled May 7-9 at Capitol Civic Centre. The plan was to move the production to July 16-18. That plan – and the play – are dropped.
In a response to a request, Claran LaViolette, president of The Masquers, Inc. board of directors, spelled out the sequence of events and decision-making.
“The May show was canceled by the Capitol Civic Centre in March (as coronavirus rules came into effect). We were given the option to cancel the show completely or reschedule for July. Since we had already cast the show and begun rehearsals, it was decided by the board of directors to reschedule for the July dates, hoping that the COVID-19 situation would change by summer. On May 27, the Capitol Civic Centre notified us that ALL performances prior to Labor Day were canceled.
“We discussed moving ‘The Foreigner’ to our 90th season, which we know is going to be quite challenging for all live theater events. At our membership meeting this past week – the first meeting we have been able to hold since February – it was the general consensus of the membership to have a two-show season rather than our usual three shows because of the uncertainty of the coming year. We had already selected two shows for our 90th season and paid the royalties, so at this point we are going forward with the planning for those two shows.
“Due to current events, there was also a concern regarding some of the content in ‘The Foreigner,’ and to avoid any offense to any of our patrons, the membership voted not to put it in the 90th season lineup.”
The play from 1984 is about two British military buddies, a fishing lodge in Georgia and overheard conversations, including how the racist county property inspector, Owen Musser, plans to convert the lodge into a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan.
A community theater production would require local actors to portray Klansmen and racists.
My 1985 review of Door County’s professional Peninsula Players Theatre production mentions the main character hearing “all sorts of deep, dark secrets.” My review of the 2002 Peninsula Players production notes Owen Musser is “an incendiary redneck.”
At one point in the play, Owen Musser warns that the Klan will soon be coming to purge foreigners from the land.
My review of the 1993 presentation by Evergreen Productions community theater of greater Green Bay says, “There is a layer of evil in the story. The Ku Klux Klan lingers nearby, then rears up dangerously – to be fought in yet another gem scene at the climax.”
Klan members have arrived with torches blazing, and they are defeated explosively.
The latter review also says, “‘The Foreigner’ is an odd mix of a play. It’s sometimes plain goofy and inane, and then it swings to such touching lines as, ‘We’re making each other complete and alive’.”
The play has been produced widely by professional, collegiate and community theaters. Its original production won awards among New York City critics, including Best New American Play and Best Off-Broadway Production.
The play premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theater.