British playwright Dawn King's Foxfinder, in its U.S. debut at Artists Rep, is a singular and somewhat slippery piece of theater. Set in rural England at an indeterminate time, this post-apocalyptic parable finds a couple, Judith and Samuel, faced with floods on their farm and mourning the death of their son. In drops William, an ascetic 19-year-old tasked with annihilating foxes. The dreaded creature has been deemed responsible for destroying farmland—and for disturbing the weather, corrupting minds and fomenting anarchy among the population. That no one has seen a fox in years only bolsters the argument against the beast. The longer William remains, the more paranoid the villagers become.
Dámaso Rodriguez's taut direction plays up the sense of foreboding, with an ominous soundscape and disquieting lighting design. He draws strong performances from the cast, even if they sometimes bulldoze through the silences. As Judith, Sara Hennessy stops just shy of overwrought excess, while Shawn Lee spirals into delusion as Samuel. But it's Joshua Weinstein who most impresses, playing William not as an unhinged loony or hardened cynic but as a tormented young man who seeks comfort however he can, even in self-flagellation.
Though the symbol of the fox wears thin—it's clearly a scapegoat for all the dangers and fears of an irrational world—King strikes a balance of specificity and mystery that keeps the audience engaged. Foxfinder has been compared to The Crucible, but while that play used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for McCarthyism, King's tale drops few hints about its bleak context. Still, given our current culture of NSA snoops and imprisoned whistle-blowers, it's hard not to see the specter of the surveillance state in Foxfinder—an argument about how we find what we're looking for, no matter how scant, slippery or strange the evidence.
SEE IT: Foxfinder is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278. 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Sundays and 2 pm Sundays through Dec. 1. $25-$55.