It’s not just George Dennis’ threatening soundscape that whips up the compelling sense of foreboding that clings to the mysterious opening scenes of “Foxfinder.” Every element in Blanche McIntyre’s riveting, stripped-down production is focused upon maintaining the fear hovering beneath the elliptical dialogue in Dawn King’s award-winning, future-set dystopia of rural life under threat. The clearer the story grows, the less the material grips, but the journey is strongly and strangely disquieting.
Foxes, once a threat to the food chain, have been ruthlessly tracked down and killed. They’ve become a symbol of menace and potential anarchy promulgated by a government anxious to exert complete control over its citizens through fear.
That manipulation is meted out by foxfinders who seek out and expunge signs of betrayal. When William (an ascetic Tom Byam Shaw) turns up at the farm of Samuel (pained Gyuri Sarossy) and Judith (watchful Kirsty Besterman), it’s clear that the truth of their situation — their farm has been failing — is more complicated than they want to admit.
He moves into their house and encroaches upon their lives as, politely but piercingly, he interrogates their past, present and future. The scenes in which lies are spun and then uncovered keep audiences in thrall guessing at everyone’s motives. Both the withholding nature of King’s dialogue and the scrupulous controlled acting from the entire cast keep the atmosphere remarkably tense.
Yet once the situation has been teased out and the nature of the society set out, tension thins. Most problematically, the perspective shifts. Having puzzled at everything in order to see the big picture, audiences find themselves too far ahead of predictable action with too little suspense.
The pivot for the change of view is 19-year-old William’s burgeoning sexual desire which, we discover, has been suppressed by his training. Despite scenes of self-flagellation in his eerily lit loft, his explosion of lust is inevitable but is too signaled to raise tension.
That combination of sexual denial threatening a rural community already under pressure from authorities points to Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” as an abiding influence. Like Miller, King is at pains to point out the way terror can consciously be spread through a community and the importance of individuals standing up for personal truth. Here, however, the character that asserts herself is the wife, given real power by Besterman’s poise and calm.
King’s writing conjures an affecting world, made even more effective by James Perkins’s reconfiguaration of the space into a wooden runway stage. McIntyre has an impressive command of visuals as well as text and actors, harnessing the length of the stage to build a mood of paranoia with characters looming out of darkness over a great distance.
By the end of the play, the writing has grown too schematic to carry the weight of over-expressed ideas. But King is obviously a serious talent and the production is another winner for the tiny but enterprising Finborough Theater.