Foxfinder: Theater Review
A dystopian drama of an authoritarian future arrives in Pasadena.
Set on a distant, hardscrabble farm in a future designated by playwright Dawn King as “Soon,” Foxfinder posits a paranoid government supervising the food supply by intrusively scrutinizing family plots for contamination by feared foxes, wily conspirators responsible for all social ills and who provide a pretext for authoritarian witch-hunts. William Bloor (Joshua Weinstein), a 19-year old “Foxfinder,” trained from youth for his inquisitor role to ferret out the remotest far-fetched evidence of these never-encountered bogeymen, moves into the residence of Samuel and Judith Covey (Shawn Lee and Sara Hennessy), relentlessly drilling them with insinuating questions within his authority to seize their property and consign them to sure death as slave factory labor. Samuel and Judith have been plagued by ill fortune and rainy weather: telltale signs of suspicion for fox infestation.
In the second show of their return season at the Pasadena Playhouse, Furious Theatre Company also welcomes the return of co-founder director Damaso Rodriguez, who first mounted this award-winning U.K. play in his new post as artistic director of Portland’s Artists Rep. It uncannily shares some thematic affinities with Furious’ previous production, the more trenchant Gidion’s Knot, in that a stranger appears demanding answers in an ambiguous search for elusive truth and accountability.
While the bucolic and threatening setting may be a little exotic for a scrappy local theater company (and the allusive accents, while admirably of a piece, are not readily identifiable, being neither Irish nor Midlands or anything precisely discernible), the tropes are recognizable from many a period British scarefest – think Witchfinder General. Maintaining straight-faced credibility is often the challenge in such situations, and Rodriguez and his able players manage an impressive consistency of tone and theme, mood and menace.
King’s play is determined not to be a genre piece, but rather a serious investigation of mass hysteria and its impact on individual autonomy, though she respects the form enough to be careful not to violate it. Her manipulation of symbols is intelligently handled, and her political and psychological points are neither overly muted nor overtly preached. Nevertheless, the work founders on a relative lack of original insight, with more detail and grain but not much more depth than a Rod Serling screed. (Johnny Guitar seared sharper with the same theme as a subplot.) The material as conceived requires the good taste brought to bear on it. Yet, however well realized, the play lacks the kick or bite of the daring rather than the merely perceptive. The quality of all the work may be up to the established and estimable Furious standard, save for that most elusive of virtues: theater that’s essential.
Venue: The Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, Pasadena (through Feb. 2)
Cast: Joshua Weinstein, Sara Hennessy, Shawn Lee, Amanda Soden
Director: Damaso Rodriguez
Writer: Dawn King
Scenic & Lighting Design: Kristeen Willis Crosser
Sound Design & Composer: Doug Newell
Costume Design: Gregory Pulver
Produced by Furious Theatre Company in association with Artists Repertory Theatre (Oregon)