Chronicling a Love Affair with Canadian Theatre

the fox

The Fox At Here For Now Theatre

Playwright Daniela Vlaskalic has adapted the D. H. Lawrence short story “The Fox” into an intriguing 90-minute play of the same name. It is receiving its world premier at Here For Now Theatre’s modest tent in the woods behind the Stratford-Perth Museum.

The short story has never been a big favorite among critics and Vlaskalic’s The Fox has wisely jettisoned Lawrence’s sometime ponderous musings about the male/female nexus to offer a vision of the tale’s central metaphor that has been stripped to its essence. I liked it a lot better than the Lawrence original.

The year is 1918. The place a hard scrabble farm in Ontario. The rather mannish Nellie and the more feminine Jill have the rather Pollyanna-ish notion that investing Jill’s money in a farm will give them freedom and independence. Mostly what they get is drudgery and penury.

They are bedeviled by a fox that is killing their chickens and Nellie hopes to kill it with her rifle. On the one occasion she might have succeeded she mysteriously failed to pull the trigger. The fox just stared at her.

The setup might lead us to believe we’re dealing with a lesbian couple here. Lawrence certainly entertained the same suspicion.

But no. Enter Henry and the dynamic changes. Henry, who once lived in the farm house, is a handsome young man recently returned from the Great War.

Not only does he stay to help out around the farm, he kills the fox. Then he starts getting sweet on the boyish Nellie, much to the horror of Jill. It’s not that Jill wants Henry for herself; she is horrified that Nellie would toss aside her cherished independence.

Henry, you see, preys on Nellie much as the fox preyed on her hens. The bittersweet ending of The Fox, which seems to offer hope, is filled with ambivalence. Vlaskalic doesn’t hammer us over the head as Lawrence did in his story; we are allowed the luxury of drawing our own conclusions.

The Fox is getting an assured production under the direction of Kelli Fox. As this season has gone on, Here For Now directors seem to be finding more and more inventive ways to use the green space beyond the tent, and Fox (the director not the hen house predator) is no exception.

I often find myself in awe at the versatility of Canadian theatre artists and this company is no exception. It is a virtual cornucopia of talented multi-hyphenates. Director Fox, who helmed the spooky Gaslight at Shaw last season, is also an accomplished actor, having logged 13 seasons at Shaw and three at Stratford. Playwright Vlaskalic is an actress and theatrical producer.

Allison Plamondon, who gives a supple performance as Nellie, is also a damn fine choreographer. I was much impressed by her work on White Christmas at Shaw. RADA-trained Siobhan O’Malley, gives a powerful portrait of the thwarted Jill and doubles as the managing director of Here For Now.

Callan Potter as Henry was an excellent choice to add a little sexual tension to The Fox. He looks like he stepped out of an Arrow Shirt poster of the period and he exudes charm. He comes by his acting chops honestly – he is the son of Seana McKenna and Miles Potter. Oh, and he’s also a writer and artist.

The set design by Darren Burkett (also a performer and choreographer) and costumes by Barbara Kozicki Beall (who studies mounted archery!) were just right. The uncredited sound design did a nice job of creating the farm outside the tent.

Here For Now is one of those special places where Ontario theatre artists can exercise their versatility and perhaps spread their wings in an intimate and mutually supportive setting.

The Fox is an excellent example of what a company conceived on that model can achieve.

The Fox continues at Here For Now Theatre through September 9, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Here For Now website.

Footnote: The recent spate of heavy rains in Stratford has left the pathway to the Here For Now tent rather waterlogged. Wear sensible shoes.

(image Mark Uhre, Here For Now Theatre)

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