Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs
Presented by HERE at the HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Ave., NYC, Jan. 19-28.
First-time playwright Carne Ross' "The Fox" is supercharged with electric emotion and unexpected eloquence in its world premiere, under Royston Coppenger's measured, often lyrical direction. A career diplomat serving at the U.K. Mission to the U.N., Ross scores a veritable dramatic coup his very first time out.
At first, the play's set-up of a romantic triangle seems inch-thin and predictable. Don't be fooled. The subtle, ongoing introduction of politics into the play—specifically, the war in the Bosnia—quickly elevates the piece far above the banal.
Alex (Mason Phillips), a London reporter, returns to Kate (Simona Morecroft), his fiancée, after a six-month tour in the Balkans at the height of ethnic cleansing. Everything looks, feels, even tastes different now, somehow seeming shallow, bourgeois, purposeless. Unbeknownst to him, another thing has changed: how Simon (Martin Hillier), Alex's best friend, feels toward his future wife.
Wandering about as shell-shocked as any war veteran, we hear only snippets of what Alex witnessed in the Balkans—a single description of a massacred village suffices—but it explains and perhaps justifies the nervousness, the irritability, and the quickly-growing obsession with leaving for country solitude that distinguishes Alex from the formerly sound and sure and sane.
The play's genesis comes from Sir Isaiah Berlin's political/philosophical essay "The Fox and the Hedgehog" and from Ross's own interest in "the potential for violent extremism within the most developed cultures." As applied to the unlikely trio of this play, the effects of his exploration are a shattering example of fine contemporary dramatic writing, one often leavened with bits of unexpected humor. Played as a carefully layered emotional tapestry by a gifted all-British cast, and staged by Coppenger with an unerring sense of unfettered honesty, I hope we hear more from this playwright, and from his interpreters as well.