Review: THE FOX edited version.

by Lynn on September 2, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Stratford Perth Museum, Stratford, Ont. Produced by Here for Now Theatre. Playing until Sept. 9, 2023.

Written by Daniela Vlaskalic

Directed by Kelli Fox

Set by Darren Burkett

Costumes by Barbara Kozicki Beall

Cast: Siobhan O’Malley

Allison Plamondon

Callan Potter

And intriguing play that could go deeper in its mysteries. Terrific performances and a bracing production.

The Story.  It’s the end of WWI. Jill and Nellie are friends who are trying to make a go of being independent, working a farm that Jill owns. Her father gave her the money to buy it. Nellie is the one who does most of the hard work. Jill has fragile health so she keeps the books and tends to the house and meals. She has coughing fits if she’s upset. Money is always an issue. Jill hesitates to ask her father for more money. Nellie is supportive. And then Henry arrives. He is back from the war and he’s looking for his grandfather who he thinks still owns the farm. How he fits is one of the many mysteries of the play.

The Production. The setting is perfect. We look out from the tent where we are sitting and there are trees, hedges and flowers. In the distance is a vast field. It all says ‘farmland’. Darren Burkett’s set of the front room of the house is cleverly created with crates that are piled up on each other to form a table, a cupboard, a place to put dirty dishes and a fireplace. There is a wood dining table, various chairs, one of which is a rocking chair.

Barbara Kozicki Beall has designed costumes that fit the times (after 1918). Jill (Siobhan O’Malley) wears a long dress, cinched at the waist and Nellie (Allison Plamondon) wears work pants, boots and a shirt. Henry (Callan Potter) is in what looks like his army uniform, or just brown pants and a brown shirt.

Kelli Fox directs with her usual attention to detail. The relationship between Jill and Nellie is close, caring and supportive. We assume they are a ‘couple’ because when Jill goes upstairs to bed she asks if Nellie is coming. It’s a subtle hint in playwright Daniela Vlaskalic’s dialogue. That’s enough to suggest the relationship.

As Jill, Siobhan O’Malley is a bit anxious, perhaps fragile because of her health, efficient in the home and a worrier. It’s a tempered performance that reveals Jill’s personality, slowly. As Nellie, Allison Plamondon is matter-of-fact, a worker who takes charge and gets things done. Both O’Malley and Plamondon give their characters a sense of integrity.

Henry (Callan Potter) makes his entrance casually walking across the open tent in the distance. We see him, but he takes his time appearing at the ‘house’. A lovely directorial move by Kelli Fox to get the audience’s attention and then raise their curiosity. This also creates a sense of tension that will be built on gradually.

Henry is beautifully played by Callan Potter. He is charming when he meets both women. He appears open without any ulterior motives. Henry explains that he’s been at the war and then went out west to get on with his life. He didn’t know his grandfather was dead, or that the farm was sold. He begins to work there and help out and this causes a shift in the relationships of Jill and Nellie and then how they perceive Henry.

Jill regards him warily. Siobhan O’Malley plays Jill here as if this man is crowding her territory with Nellie. It this Jill’s natural sense of protecting her world? Is Henry really plotting to separate Nellie from Jill so that he can have Nellie for himself and thus, the farm? Can we assume that Henry is “The Fox?”  

I don’t think this is a natural assumption because playwright Daniela Vlaskalic does not dig deep enough here to clearly establish this. Mystery is fine, but it has to be solidly established, and I don’t think it is here.  The programme note is provocative saying: “Henry, determined to start a new life for himself begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the women, threatening to tear apart their dream of independence. The Fox resonates with mystery, sexual tension and a foreboding slow burn that culminates in a surprising ending.”

Uhm, not quite. I wish the play was as provocative as the description of it. The writing has to be more pointed and focused to believe that Henry is playing a game of cat and mouse with the women. It’s odd that Henry didn’t know his grandfather died and the farm sold. True he was travelling after the war, but surely as his next of kin, Henry would have known or kept in touch. If not, why not. I think that’s a question that should be answered.

There are times that it appears that Nellie is ‘playing’ Henry, suggesting a returned affection. Allison Plamondon as Nellie has a slyness to her that is so interesting. Is she “The Fox?”

Comment. The production of The Fox is first rate. Wonderful performances especially from Callan Potter, a new face on the scene: charm, confidence, an easy grace and conviction. I think the play needs to be clearer in its mystery. Interesting possibilities though.  

Here for Now Theatre presents:

Plays until Sept. 9, 2023.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. (no intermission).

ADDENDUM: 1. How come there is no reference in the title page that this is based on a D. H. Lawrence short story of the same name? There is reference to it a page later in director Kelli Fox’s director’s note. I don’t want to read the director’s notes or the playwright’s note explaining their play. So I didn’t read it until later. I want the play to do the explaining. That D.H. Lawrence reference should have been on the title page for full disclosure.

ADDENDUM 2. Callan Potter. Of course I know that his parents are director Miles Potter and actor Seana McKenna. I just didn’t mention it initially because I didn’t want to diminish his acting accomplishments by saying who his celebrated folks are and that he came by his ability by osmosis. Callan Potter is a fine actor in his own right. He has talent. His folks are talented too. Now let’s all get on with our day.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kelly Monaghan September 5, 2023 at 11:10 pm

May I flatter myself that you read my review? Even Hoile missed the Lawrence connection!
Are you reviewing Queen Maeve? I’d love to stand you to a drink (or two)!


2 Lynn September 6, 2023 at 12:49 pm

Hi Kelly, Alas I didn’t read your review yet. I didn’t read Kelli Fox’s programme note that mentions it’s based on the Lawrence novela (I don’t want to read any programme note that explains the show). I was told of the connection by a reader, then I read Kelli’s note. I haven’t read Chris yet either. I don’t read anybody until I do my own review–that way I save myself from reviewing the reviewer. I see QUEEN MAEVE on Friday night. A drink (non-alcoholic) sounds great if we are ever in the same place at the same time. Seeing Love’s Labours Lost on Sat. And you? Best, Lynn