BWW Reviews: Artists Rep's FOXFINDER Gets Lost in the Woods
The metaphorical anti-propaganda play is an old standby in American theater, going back at least as far as The Crucible, which filterEd McCarthyism through the Salem witch trials. That's a classic Arthur Miller play, and many have tried to emulate its success, but most of them fall short.
Dawn King's Foxffinder presents us with a farming couple somewhere in England. The time is not specified, though there are references to rationing and the need for farmers to produce as a patriotic duty. Sam and Judith are struggling; they've been dealing with heavy flooding and the loss of their only child. Into their house walks William, a "foxfinder" trained almost from birth, indoctrinated in the ways of foxes, who are presented as the scourge of England - though no one in the play, including William, has ever seen one. William asks many detailed and highly personal questions, sleeps in their spare bedroom, and searches their farmland meticulously. Sarah, a neighbor, has a rebellious side; she gives Judith a pamphlet telling the truth about the foxfinders and their cause.
That's pretty much the play. William Keeps searching, Judith tries to hold things together, and Sam becomes increasingly agitated. You could read the foxes as just about anything; originally I thought of McCarthy's Communists, though WMDs also came to mind. William's zealotry also made me think of religious fanaticism. He denies himself sex, alcohol, and most other pleasures, and flagellates himself to banish impure desires. (The "foxes" that many believe in but no one ever sees? God?)
However, the writing just isn't strong enough to keep the metaphor going, even in a short, intermissionless play. From the beginning, it's clear that Judith is the voice of sanity, William is the zealot, Sam is unstable, and Sarah is a rebel. The characters don't have much place to go. The director tries to create suspense with mood lighting and spooky music, but the dialogue is filled with unintentional laughs, and the final sequence, where Sam starts shooting foxes while William questions his faith, while dead rabbits hang from the flies, got howls from the audience.
The actors work heroically to make this mess believable. Sara Hennessy is all fluttery nerves at the beginning; her Judith is scared of the coming foxfinder, and his insistent questions pluck at her. But she has reserves of strength underneath, and Hennessy is quite believable in the later scenes, when her character is trying to save the day. Joshua Weinstein does what he can with William, but the character's dialogue is so off-the-wall crazy that he comes across as an annoyance rather than a force to be reckoned witH. Shawn Lee's Sam is mostly stoic, but he has the physical presence to convince us that he'll back up his few words with actions, and his gradual descent into mania is effective. Amanda Soden does a nice job with the underwritten Sarah, and holds her own in Sarah's confrontation with William.
Damaso Rodriguez doesn't show his usual strong directorial hand here. The play's tempo is sluggish, the tone is uneven, and the set changes seemed to take forever. (Kristeen Willis Crosser has created a simple set with a jagged edge, but the actors seemed to spend more time moving the furniture around than actually playing on it.) Crosser's lighting is dim throughout, and, like Doug Newell's music, seems designed to create suspense where there just isn't any.
I'm not sure what playWright King was trying to say here, other than warning us not to listen to the government and the media, but I wish she'd found a way to say it more clearly. It's a shame when obviously talented people go awry. Perhaps the next play will be a triumph for all.