Like the animal featured in its title, ''The Fox" is a sly and unnerving creation -- a play that dodges about even as it delivers dramatic punches. The Basement on a Hill Stage production, led by company founder and artistic director Lilia Levitina, is a forceful one, boldly combining imagery, music, and dialogue.
The play is based on a D.H. Lawrence novella that details the rural life of two women, Jill (Robin Rapoport) and Nellie (Grace Sumner), who are struggling to maintain their unproductive farm during the cold months. The women's private lifestyle is upended when a young soldier named Henry (Greg Raposa) visits the remote farm while on a brief leave from the military. Henry quickly makes himself useful, coaxing eggs out of the hens and eliminating the fox that had freely roamed the property. Henry also quickly becomes a sharp point on a triangle within the house, at first charming both ladies and later ruthlessly focusing on Nellie as the object of his desire.
Lawrence's story is set in England in the early years following the First World War, but this production is not so strictly committed to a time period. The novella also hinted at a romantic connection between Jill and Nellie, while this staging demonstrates their intimate relationship more overtly, albeit with a fair amount of self-loathing mixed in. In any event, it's clear that Jill and Nellie are partners in working the farm, and Henry's arrival forces an unforeseen divide between the two.
Jill is the more domestic and fragile of the women. Rapoport captures her understated perceptiveness and slowly builds her up -- physically and vocally -- as Jill's way of life is threatened by the ever-increasing influence Henry has over Nellie. Sumner is well cast as the physically sturdier, but more emotionally fluid Nellie. Sumner's Nellie is always on the verge of something -- of pouncing, of collapsing, of cracking up. There are moments when Sumner seems to lose track of the play's progression, occasionally wallowing too long in the shifting emotional mess of Nellie's life. They are momentary derailments in an otherwise unhesitating performance.
Raposa absolutely looks the part of 20-year-old Henry, not quite a man but significantly more dangerous than a boy. Henry's power over Nellie is the result of a conniving mix of sexual and mental forces. Raposa maintains the balance, yet also reveals Henry's savage side, which ultimately shows him to be another fox tormenting the farm. It's not always clear that Nellie is more smitten than she is hypnotized, but the tension created is still powerful.
Levitina's production is laden with symbolism, much of which is connected through choreographed dream sequences, stylized movement, and intense splashes of color. This ''Fox" establishes bold thematic links among the costumes, props, and lighting. The actors express themselves through dance and interact with stuffed animals representing the wild creatures on the land. And the music arrangement by Emily Romm serves as a score in a production that is unabashedly theatrical and utterly raw.