the Foreigner, the Klan and the assassination of MLK

Friday night we attended a local production of The Foreigner, a play about a man who just wants to be left alone while away from home, so he pretends he can't speak English. He is on holiday with a friend who has to go away and work, and as the foreigner lives among the locals, somewhere in the deep south of Georgia, he acquires, in his words, a personality. Spokane has several theater companies that do first rate work, and the Civic Theater where we saw the production, is one of the. It's not Broadway or London, and the level of acting is uneven, with some very good, some pretty good, and some just good jobs, but nothing shoddy.

Friday, though, was the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jrs' assassination and there was a rather disturbing bit in the play that evoked the lingering issues of race in America. One of the characters, the bad guy of course, is a self-styled preacher who we learn is trying to get the money, from his fiancee, to start up a white identity/supremacist church to bring back the "invisible empire" of the Klan, though we don't know this until the play unfolds a good bit. The preacher is, of course, slick. His minion is not so slick. In this production he is a big, fat, ignorant, stupid buffoon. I think, because this was generally a comedy, that works, but I think it also downplays the seriousness of the race issue in the play. Most of the invective is directed against foreigners, Catholics and Jews, not Blacks or Asians. Maybe the race element of the preacher's invective was edited out. Still, with the racist being a buffoon, that makes the problem seem less insidious than it is.

It came to a head though, when in the play's climax, the resort cabin is invaded by hood and sheet wearing members of the Klan, come to get the foreigner, to drive him and his friends away, under threat of death. I don't know what it is, but even seeing those sheets and hoods, and I'm a white man raised in the North, made me feel uneasy. They were not used gratuitously in the play at all. They worked as part of the action, though maybe something else could have been done, but they worked, they fit, it seemed right. From that point on, I had a hard time disassociating my thoughts of the Klan from the actors portraying them. When they came out to take their bows, it was almost like I shouldn't clap for them. They had taken their sheets and hoods off at that point, but there was a lingering sense of something bad. Maybe it was the day combined with the play that made me feel this way, but there is something that remains unsettling, disgustingly so, about the Klan.