Disappointment, frustration surrounds abrupt cancellation of Fourth Wall’s ‘Perfect Arrangement’

Cat Murphy, Staff Writer

Fourth Wall Theater, Quinnipiac University’s student-run theater organization, unexpectedly canceled its original fall 2022 production late last month, in light of what some cast members described as discomfort with the language used in the script.

The Fourth Wall Theater executive board elected to perform “Perfect Arrangement,” a sitcom-style play about LGBTQ stigmas, prior to the start of the fall semester.

Set in the 1950s but written in the 21st century by queer playwright Topher Payne, the play “takes an inspection at the roots of homophobia and extrapolates it into our lives now,” according to Fourth Wall’s website.

“Going into the show selection process, we wanted to choose a play that said something about what was going on in today’s world, more specifically LGBTQ(I)A+ rights being at stake after the Roe v. Wade turn-over,” wrote Fourth Wall President Alice Mahon, a senior theater major, in a statement to the Chronicle.

However, Fourth Wall Theater announced the cancellation of its production of “Perfect Arrangement” in an email to members Sept. 27, citing “unforeseen circumstances.” The Fourth Wall Theater executive board subsequently elected to produce “Alice in Wonderland” on Oct. 5.

Illustration by Peyton McKenzie

“Unfortunately, the cancellation was the best decision for the (organization) as a whole,” wrote junior English and theater double major Christina Stoeffler, the publicity coordinator for Fourth Wall Theater, in an email to the Chronicle on Oct. 7. “There were members of the cast who were uncomfortable with some of the dialogue in a particular scene.”

Mahon acknowledged that the play’s script features several instances of derogatory language that is often used today to demean members of LGBTQ communities. However, the language used in the script “is authentic to that of the 1950s,” Mahon said.

“These ‘derogatory’ words were the norm at the time of this story—to not use them would be avoiding the point of the play,” Mahon wrote. “While we did explain the significance/history and choice of this language within the play, we could not make our team members do anything they felt uncomfortable with.”

Mahon told the Chronicle that the actors “were not explicitly told” about the language in the script prior to accepting their roles. However, she said cast members were provided a summary of the show and were informed that it involved “controversial topics,” including sexuality.

Payne told the Chronicle that he understood and supported Fourth Wall Theater’s decision to scrap the production of “Perfect Arrangement.”

“I fully support the autonomy of any artist who is not comfortable portraying a character who says things that they are not comfortable expressing as an artist,” Payne said. “I’m the person who… put it to paper, and I have a complicated relationship with the usage of language in this show.”

However, Payne said he was disappointed to learn that Fourth Wall Theater “did not pursue another possibility for how the story could be told on their stage.”

“If that needs to be a conversation and a collaboration, I’ve always been open to it,” Payne said. “To my knowledge, Fourth Wall did not make that request.”

Mahon confirmed that neither Fourth Wall Theater nor the university reached out to Payne, stating that they “did not feel right” doing so.”

“Though we had discussed and considered reaching out, we were already on a very short time limit and were advised that it would be rude to do so,” Mahon wrote. “We did not want to risk disrespecting Payne as a playwright—he chose to write the script this way for a reason.”

Alyssa Arends, a junior political science major who suggested that Fourth Wall Theater produce “Perfect Arrangement,” expressed disappointment and with the cancellation.

“I was excited to see authentic representation of my community on stage,” Arends wrote in an email statement to the Chronicle. “My hope was that the Quinnipiac student body — Quinnipiac being a primarily white, heteronormative, cis-dominated institution with low financial/economic diversity — would get to see a piece of performance art showcasing student voices that are often oppressed, suppressed, and frankly, ignored on campus.”

Mahon confirmed the showtimes for Fourth Wall’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” will remain the same: Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 12 at 2 p.m., Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 13 at 2 p.m.

“While we are sad that our university was not ready for ‘Perfect Arrangement’ and the content within it, the theater community is ecstatic to bring Alice’s fantasy land to life,” Mahon wrote. “We cannot thank our faculty, crew and actors enough for sticking with us while we worked on this solution.”

Payne said he hopes the cancellation prompts a larger discussion about language, the barriers it presents and a “different path forward the next time this happens.”

“Even if ‘Perfect Arrangement’ is never produced at your university, it could still compel a conversation,” Payne said. “Making the work of art go away does not make the problem go away.”