The repercussions following the Aug. 12 clash between white nationalist protesters and counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, have reached the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park.
The theater’s season-opening production of “The Foreigner,” a 1984 farce by the late Larry Shue featuring actors in Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods has been canceled by Sheri Lee Miller, the recently appointed new supervisor of the center and director of the Spreckels Theatre Company.
The show, originally scheduled to open Sept. 8, already had been cast and the production was in rehearsals when Miller decided to pull the show from the theater’s schedule. There was no outside pressure, and only one person from the community had voiced concern about the production, Miller said.
“My whole decision is based on my own feelings. It was my decision alone,” she said. “The whole climax of the play is these actors coming onstage in Klan robes. I felt this was not the time to treat domestic terrorism lightly.
“I heard from absolutely no one in the city government of Rohnert Park prior to my decision, other than for them to say, ‘It’s completely up to you.’ That’s why they hired me is to make these decisions.”
Comments posted on the Spreckels Performing Arts Center Facebook page were overwhelmingly supportive of her decision, she said.
Sebastopol actor Tice Allison, who was cast as a Klan leader in the play, said he was disappointed by the cancellation, which he termed a concession to the “grievance industry,” “political correctness” and “selective moral outrage.”
After four weeks of rehearsal the cast should have been allowed to portray the characters they were bringing to life from the playwright’s script, he said. To deal with possible controversy, the theater could have written advisories warning the audience about the play’s content, or hosted audience discussions before or after performances.
“Had the show been canceled before our first rehearsal that would have been one thing, but we were right in the middle of it,” Allison said. “The rug was pulled out from under us. Why not let this play happen?”
Miller said she consulted local theater critic Harry Duke, who reviews theater for the Sonoma County Gazette, the forallevents.com website, and KSRO and KRCB radio. Duke had expressed discomfort after seeing a Cloverdale Center for the Performing Arts production of “The Foreigner,” which ended its scheduled run the weekend of the Charlottesville rally, in which a 32-year-old woman was killed and two Virginia State Police officers died in a helicopter crash. Duke said he had enjoyed a Contra Costa production of “The Foreigner” two years ago, but found the play disturbing now in light of the Charlottesville events.
“‘The Foreigner’ is a light, airy comedy, but after what happened in Charlottesville, I was stunned when the stage was overrun with actors in the robes and hoods of the Klan,” he said. “It just felt wrong to me.”
Duke said discussion of the cancellation on several local theater websites and Facebook pages has been generally civil.
“The Foreigner,” and the rest of the Spreckels’ 2017-2018 theater season, had already been scheduled by Miller’s predecessor, supervisor and director Gene Abravaya, before his retirement last June. In the play, an Englishman staying at a resort in rural Georgia becomes aware of a plot to turn the lodge into a meeting place for the Klan.