Foxfinder is More Murky Than Mysterious

Categories: Stage

FoxfinderAug19rev.jpg
Photo by Gentle Bear Photography.
Bobby Haworth and Patricia Duran in Foxfinder from Mildred's Umbrella.
The set-up:

Foxfinder won a playwriting contest and was produced in a small West End theater in London in 2011, garnering good reviews. It is a small-scale drama, exploring the impact of a long-running, governmental witch hunt. The hunt is for citizens who may be conspiring to protect a fox, which is contaminating farms.

The execution:

There is a very minimal set, by Greg Dean, with a large wooden table serving as a kitchen table for the opening scene between Judith Covey (Patricia Duran) and her husband Samuel Covey (Bobby Haworth). The pair are farmers, living a hardscrabble existence, with crops failing. But the couple has an urgent concern - they are awaiting the arrival of a government investigator, William Bloor (Kevin Lusignolo), coming to evaluate whether their farm has been contaminated by the fox. If the farm is condemned, it's off to an assembly-line factory, with rations of one egg a week, as opposed to the wealth of food available on a farm.

I would normally conclude that the stakes are high, but Duran plays Judith with an unvarying grim expression, a turned-down mouth, and a shrill voice, making me wonder whether the cheek-by-jowl easy camaraderie of a factory might not be a welcome change. Haworth, however, is a remarkable actor, and his portrayal creates interest, plausibility, and excitement, as he is caught up in an obsession to kill the fox. It is a fine, gripping performance, and the chief reason to see the play.

Lusignolo is a talented actor - he made a minor role in The Crucible 18 months ago into a cameo jewel of forthright integrity. Here he plays a protocol-dependent bureaucrat, a bit of a bumbler, and the fact that he is celibate, instead of adding subterranean tension, simply permits four separate cringe-making sexual moments onstage. Director Huff might have found a way to make Bloor compelling instead of a dullard, especially since Bloor appears to become infected with demons in the play's denouement. Michelle Edwards portrays a minor 4th character, an untrustworthy, self-serving neighbor.

I cling to the belief that theater can create magic, that illusions can be woven out of skill and trust and inspiration. But illusion is not only shattered, it is trampled on when actors break character about ten or twelve times to cart the large table upstage (still in full view) when they are "in a field", cart it back for another kitchen-table chat, then upstage again for Bloor's bedroom, downstage again angled differently for a neighbor's kitchen, and then back to the fields, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. Frequent set changes are a problem, but there are solutions; this tactic is not one of them.

Last year's Big Animal Games from Mildred's Umbrella and the same director had a high-gloss finish that was captivating; here, the clumsy set changes look like a staged reading. This work really is a teleplay, not a theater piece; it would work better with mist on the moors, and an eerie aura of fear of the fox, where atmospherics might disguise its thinness.

The play takes place with no intermission, but I divided it in my mind into Act One where nothing happens and Act Two where a lot happens. Playwright King has a heavy-hand with her satiric impulses, and she hurls her javelins in all directions, though there are some amusing lines. She tackles red tape, sexual repression, hypocrisy, betrayal, venality, prostitution, obsession, extortion, faith-based beliefs, paranoia, and hysteria - much like a circular firing squad. But only Haworth finds the humanity to make his character interesting and authentic.

The verdict:

A play that is more murky than mysterious falters, but Bobby Haworth shows that a rose can bloom in a desert, and that a gifted actor can be better than his material.

Foxfinder continues through August 31, from Mildred's Umbrella, at Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring St., at 8 pm Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and pay-what-you-can Mondays. For information or ticketing, call 832-463-0409 or contact www.mildredsumbrella.com or info@mildredsumbrella.com.


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6 comments
Kathygeiger
Kathygeiger

Well, he was actually sleeping through a good amount of the play, as I've witnessed him doing numerous times, so maybe he was reviewing his dream?

exastra23
exastra23

What play was the reviewer watching? I have to ask if they were actually paying attention, and question their art critic credentials. The performance I saw was brilliant. As great as I hoped it would be and better than I expected. Every actor was excellent in this well directed and well composed story. Intelligent, thoughtful, clever, funny, intense, and authentically portrayed. With a bonus of fantastic Irish accents! Witnessing this marvel was a pleasure and privilege. Mildred's Umbrella at its finest.
Patricia Duran is never less than magnificent, and the other actors were equally impressive. Set changes were conducted with expert, non-disruptive precision.

I highly recommend.

joekirkendall
joekirkendall

I couldn't disagree more. I thought Ms. Duran was spellbinding, and every bit Mr. Haworth's equal on stage. Her performance has haunted me since I saw it. And the set changes were performed with clock-like precision at the performance I saw and never interfered with the storytelling. This is a first-rate production of an exciting playwright's work. I know we all have different opinions, but this review is ridiculous and way off-base. GO SEE THIS PLAY!

mildredsumbrella
mildredsumbrella

seriously, man. Stop requesting our shows. you always hate them.

jnodler1
jnodler1

I was surprised to read this.  Of course opinions will vary but I was there the same night and I thought it was one of the best things I've seen on a Houston stage in a long while.  I also thought each of the actors were extraordinary.  Patricia Duran was wonderful.  I'm especially disappointed to see her get short shrift here.  I wasn't even terribly enamored of the script, though I thought it was good, but the production was stunning.

sprimpf
sprimpf

Wow...well, if this is the kind of stuff they're putting out...I will definitely avoid going to that show that was promoted in a flyer insert!  Must be garbage!

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