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In 1934, Lillian Hellman’s first play emphasized the concept – inspired by the rise of Nazism – that a lie repeated long enough, with enough conviction, can eventually be seen as true. Just like “The Children’s Hour” 80 years ago, Dawn King’s new venture “Foxfinder” looks at this elemental concept of indoctrination, propaganda and fear.
In a “rolling U.S. premiere” directed by former Furious Theatre Company artistic director Damaso Rodriguez, “Foxfinder” has landed at Furious, back at their home in the Carrie Hamilton Theater. Compelling and intense, it has much to recommend it to those caught up in popular ethos: insidious propaganda, a dystopian future, nature v mankind. Still, the overarching statement being made resonates back to Hellman’s warning: say something untrue long enough, and it becomes a people’s truth.
In “Foxfinder,” the concern is productive use of limited farmland, and a government strictly monitoring the efficiency with which each parcel is utilized. Any slacking off, even caused by weather, is liable to lead to an investigation by a “foxfinder,” raised up to look for evidence of the evil and subliminal control of foxes upon the society. With fox infiltration seen as the source of all inefficiency and rebellion, foxfinder investigations are feared, with reason.
Shawn Lee and Sara Hennessy are Samuel and Judith, a simple-living farm couple struggling with loss and bad weather, and the oppressive fact that a foxfinder has come. Joshua Weinstein creates the rigidly indoctrinated foxfinder William, struggling with his own humanity even as he carefully documents the human failings of his subjects. Amanda Soden, as their neighbor Sarah, supplies the reasoning and therefore rebellious counter argument, putting her family at risk by articulating the pointlessness of the foxfinder’s purpose.
Lee creates in Samuel a man desperate for something to give his life purpose, confused and self-isolated. Hennessy’s careful, protective Judith provides what balance there can be in a household of constant stress. Soden’s inquiringly dangerous Sarah, on stage in sudden spurts, speaks to the passions which inspire underground rebellions – sympathetic, hopeful, and human.
Yet, though the entire story proves compelling watching, Weinstein’s indoctrinated automaton discovering his humanity creates the greatest fascination. Initially a man of fascist passion, William’s fights to cling to his proud asceticism while overwhelmed with very human desires makes the entire piece work as a whole.
“Foxfinder” is not new news. Fascistic authoritarianism, though in this instance sparked apparently by climate change, has been worked and reworked over time, and perhaps better. The message at the core of the play, be it suspicion of blind belief, the unnatural condition of denying one’s essential nature, or the compelling power of a well and sincerely told lie, has also been seen before.
Still, what sets this production of this play apart is the quality of the performance, as the actors create characters of rounded familiarity. Add to this the taut direction by Rodriguez, which keeps one on the edge of one’s seat, and the artistry of those whose work literally sets the stage for what appears.
The minimalist but very effective set by Kristeen Willis Crosser allows effective changes of scene, aided by her facile lighting design. Doug Newell’s ominous original music, and general sound design help build the feeling of dread so necessary to the piece. Gregory Pulver’s contrasting clothing between peasant-like country folk and tightly formal official defines character before a word is spoken.
“Foxfinder” runs roughly 90 minutes without intermission which is a necessity. Frankly, breaking the sense of disquiet and rising emotion would dilute the most important elements. Furious Theater’s last two productions have removed the standard proscenium-based interior of the Carrie Hamilton, turning it into a modified “black box” with moveable seating. This too allows the action to be closer, and the feeling more intense.
What: “Foxfinder” When: Through February 2, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays Where: Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., in Pasadena How Much: $20 Info: (626) 356-7529 or http://www.furioustheatre.org