The protagonist farmers, Samuel and Judith Covey, are awaiting the visit of a government official. When the young man arrives, and tells the Coveys that they are not on target to meet their quota, another piece falls into place. Whatever economic downturn has befallen the Coveys, it has affected the entire country, resulting in a government takeover of farms (and, as we ultimately learn, all industry). The official, William, will decide whether the Coveys can keep their farm; his investigation will determine if their lack of production is simply the result of bad weather or if something more sinister is at work here.
In this case, as the title of the play suggests, the possible sinister force is a fox infestation. William will question the Coveys and their neighbors, walk every inch of the property, read the land for signs, and ultimately determine whether or not foxes are the cause of all the Coveys' problems. That description of the play is completely accurate. It is also completely inaccurate, as further scenes reveal there is a lot more going on here. Why does the Coveys' neighbor, Sarah, have a pamphlet she can't be caught with? And why does William's reference book describe foxes in a most unusual manner?
Dawn King's play isn't about foxes at all. It's about totalitarian regimes keeping the population in control through fear. It's about believing the lie when it is easier to accept than the truth. And, at its very best, it's about individuals who all have roles to play in society's game, and what happens when they have doubts about those roles.
The production at Furious, part of a rolling U.S. premiere with Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland, does a solid job of setting the scene. The wooden farmhouse door of Kristeen Willis Crosser's minimalist set is askew, giving the entire proceedings a "down the rabbit hole" feel. Joshua Weinstein as William nicely keeps everyone off balance. His manner is gentle and almost apologetic, but he can turn on a dime and rely on his absolute authority to ask and do whatever he wants. Shawn Lee is sympathetic as Samuel, the failing farmer who is eager to please. Sara Hennessy's Judith is genuinely frightened of William's power and his ability to tear her life apart, but she also has an independence that might get her into trouble. Dámaso Rodriguez directs with his trademark intensity, keeping the characters and audience uncomfortable.
What keeps this production from being extraordinary (besides a couple of questionable accents) is the play itself. It's part 1984 and part Kafkaesque nightmare, but, in places, it just takes itself too far to be plausible even by its own incredible rules. And the ending is fairly predictable (only the details and a brief epilogue are uncertain), which is particularly disappointing because King's script briefly flirts with the possibility of going someplace else entirely, which would have been much more interesting than where it ultimately ends up. Even so, it's a dark little play with something to say about our fears.
Foxfinder runs at the Furious Theatre in Pasadena through February 2, 2014. For tickets and information, see www.FuriousTheatre.org.
Furious Theatre Company in association with Artists Repertory Theatre presents Foxfinder by Dawn King. Directed by Dámaso Rodriguez. Stage Manager Tozzi McDowell; Assistant Stage Manager Alfonso Ramirez; Scenic Design Kristeen Willis Crosser; Dialect Coach Mary McDonald Lewis; Lighting Design Kristeen Willis Crosser; Production Manager Susan Coulter; Sound Design/Composer Doug Newell; Dramaturgical Assistant Russel Terwelp; Fight/Firearm Consultant Brian Danner; Fight Choreography Jonathan Cole; Costume Design Gregory Pulver; Technical Director Adam Critchlow.