note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark
Lighting Design by Matthew Breton
Set Design by Masha Lifshin and Leonid Osseny
Costume Design & Props by Olga Ivanov and Irina Romm
Choreography by Felix Ivanov
Music Arrangement by Emily Romm
Sound by Lana Freiberg
Light by Jack Strauss
I was told by Director Lilia Levitina that I should read the D. H. Lawrence novella which Allan Miller adapted for the stage, "The Fox." But for me Levitina's approach, with her Basement on The Hill Stage productions, is theatrical poetry using metaphor, ambiguity and symbols more than plot-precision and solid reality for its effects, thus allowing widely differing interpretations for everyone. For instance, I've been told Lawrence's original is set in rural, forested England with World War I as background whereas I saw the play's wide play-space as outside Taos New Mexico. Other spectators will have different ideas --- and each will be valid, at least to my mind.
The Plot: two women, outcasts from town, are trying unsucessfully to make a go of an abandoned farm even though their hens won't lay and they must keep watch for a marauding fox that has stolen eight of the fattest for his dinners. A young man on leave from war claims the farm was his dour grandfather's. He gets the hens to lay, shoots and skins the fox, demands the sturdier of the women marry and come to Canada with him --- and his week's stay as hired-hand hunter is cause for tension and discord culminating in an accidental death.
Thrown over these mere facts though are tantalizing details. The set designed by Masha Lifshin and Leonid Osseny features a wall with a glowing fire-place at one side, with a chopping-block and hanging branches at the other, and a table is brought in for meals, so the fluid space is both inside and outside by turns. At times the sky/scrim is lit by sudden brightly colorful effects --- lightning-strokes? northern-lights? --- accompanied often by ominous sound cues. (Lighting is by Matthew Breton, Sound by Lana Freiberg, but "Light is by Jake Strauss" and Music Arrangements are by Emily Roman.) These effects are reacted to by the players yet never explained in the text. They serve to keep the flow off-balance and to underscore the feeling of discord.
Here Grace Sumner plays the sturdy Nellie, who chops wood, handles a rifle, and finds men's clothing convenient. Robin Rapaport is the skirted, more domestic, indoor Jill, who believes their hired hand intends by marrying to turn them into his outdoor/indoor domestic slaves. And since Greg Raposa's Henry is happiest off in the forest on his own, huntng game, this may be true.
The most fascinating of the precise yet minimal props (by Olga Ivanovna and Irina Romm) is an open-work bedspread that looks like a pure white, softly fluffy net. The women wear it as a cape or tuck it around one another like a shawl, wrap themselves or each other in its sensuously uniting folds, and use it as a tablecloth for meals.
Is there a lesbian undertone here --- overt? unexpressed? --- threatened by a rogue male? Raposa twice appears, in a long-snouted red mask, as a god-like fox-sculpture in red shirt and lighting. When Henry kills the fox Nellie insists she never wears furs, but cannot take her hand from the sensuous, sensual pelt --- and it's then that Henry demands marriage, dismissing Jill as a flower doomed to die in a season.
The action everywhere here is intense, sparked by continual conflicts, unproven doubts, and theatrical accents. The director herself may have a completely differing view of these events than I, as may every other member of the audience. In my mind, that is the strength of this unforgettably poetic theatrical experience.
( a k a larry stark )