The Fox: An Enigmatic Experience

Rebekah Tripp in Peace in Our Time (left). Photo by S. Brand

Quite some time ago I picked up a copy of The Fox as suggested to me by the incomparable Deirdre Murphy (this is a moniker by which she should always be referred).  I enjoyed it immensely upon first read.  I thought, ‘yea, let’s dig into this play.’  A reading, followed by a few meetings to delve into process work began.  The playwright, Allan Miller, began co-spearheading this process with me.  I gathered from the start that this play was more than I had realized upon first reading.  I was initially intrigued by a world where two women lived off on their own; choosing to separate from society.  I was thrilled by the intimate and dangerous connection that began to develop between Henry and Nellie. Then, The Fox was chosen as a ClassicsFest piece with Allan as director and Belen Greene, Jason Thomas, Ian Littleworth and myself as the players.  This, my dear friends, is when the work, the mystery, the delving…really began.

The process this last month has come in the form of gathering around a dining room table or living room table and diving into the play.  We concentrate on characters, relationships, circumstance.  We examine our own hang ups as actors and attempt to push through them to provide an honest look at the people in this play.  The process is very much about leaning into the discomfort; that place that as an individual we tend to hold back from our work because it’s unfamiliar or because it scares us (Allan, much to his credit, will accept none of that).

Jason Thomas in The Nina Variations. Photo by G. Wade

For this blog, my director has asked me to examine why I wanted to do this play.  What does a 32 year old woman from the suburbs of Chicago want from this material, from these people, from this story?  What does a seemingly confident individual, terrified of being found out as imperfect and fragile, not fully embracing the power of her own vulnerability find that speaks to her in this role?  Everything.  I am petrified by this torrent of natural forces that Nellie experiences in this play because once you get swept up in those forces, how do you make them stop, do you want them to stop, what if you get carried away.  I am thrilled, excited and nervous about the relationship that develops between Nellie and Henry.  Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw someone that made your stomach knot so tightly that you felt like throwing up?  I do, and it is the scariest most alive feeling that exists.  I crave it and I shy away from it. I want to be consumed in it and I want to run from it.  These are the very real extremes with which Nellie is confronted.  That doesn’t even touch the relationship with a woman who is neither her lover nor her caretaker but her equal, her friend, her sister, her other half, her soul mate. There is a pushing and pulling force that weighs on Nellie that makes my skin crawl while at the same time makes my heart beat out of my chest and my pulse race.

Belen Greene in Shakespeare’s King Phycus (right). Photo by A. Goodman

Another thing I’ve had to tackle during this process is how to approach this world and this character without guile.  To confront the things in the story that come from an innocent and honest place.  Living in the world I’ve become accustomed too, innocence is not afforded to many in great supply.  I think I lost most of mine somewhere around age 3.  It’s rather like panning for gold.  When you touch on those moments of guilelessness and unblemished grace it is a rejoicing; a celebration.  Learning how to stretch those moments and bring them to this world has been difficult but by no means impossible.  I’ve discovered that innocence, while it may be a small spark, can be reignited and grow into a warm, brilliant light that can lead you if you’re willing to be led.

Nellie would never use this many words.  I have attempted to be honest in my writing, as she would be in her life.  So, that’s what I’ve found with this process.  It’s been rich, it’s been frustrating, it’s made me laugh, it’s made me cry, and it’s made me look inside a bit and rummage around.  It’s been an incredibly meaningful experience and I have fallen in love with my director, my fellow actors and the stage even more deeply.

A2 member Rebekah Tripp muses on her experiences initiating The Fox, this weekend’s ClassicsFest 2012 reading.  Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.

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Shaw’s Version of Hell

The Cast of St. Joan

Okay, I admit it…I’m a Shaw geek. Have been ever since one of my very first Broadway shows – ST. JOAN with the late, truly great, Lynn Redgrave at Circle-in-the-Square in NYC (in a cast, by the way, that also included our fellow Antaean and my very good friend, Armin Shimerman!)

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to play roles such as ‘John Tarleton’ in MISALLIANCE at Center Stage, Baltimore and ‘Andrew Undershaft’ in MAJOR BARBARA at San Jose Rep.

And believe me when I tell you…this stuff is challenging and oh-so rewarding to work on. The demands of language, facility of language, rapidity of thought, clarity of ideas — and, of course, discovering the beautifully human Shavian characters within those demands…it’s an actor’s dream job.

Peter Van Norden in St. Joan

And DON JUAN IN HELL is no exception. For those unfamiliar with the piece, DON JUAN… makes up the bulk of Act 3 of his enormous play, MAN AND SUPERMAN. Seldom performed in the context of the whole play, it is most often performed as we are doing it here in ClassicsFest — in a concert version (the most famous of which had Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Agnes Moorehead as its four cast members and toured the world back in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s).

It’s a piece separate from the rest of the play…a dream, really, containing characters that are faintly reminiscent of the characters in the rest of the play. But it stands firmly on it’s own two feet —  a brilliant piece all on its own.

So, in Shaw’s mind…what is Hell? Indeed, what is Heaven? How does Shaw’s ever-popular theory of the “Life Force” work in these locales? Or does it? How about the relationship between Man and Woman, Father and Daughter…God and the Devil?

The characters as statues.

Don Juan, Dona Ana, The Statue (Dona Ana’s father) and Lucifer, himself — these are the characters you’ll meet in, yes, Shaw’s version of Hell.

The concepts and the comedy are flying, fast and furious, in this 90-minute discussion/debate/argument/play — and you’re likely to take away some ideas that will tickle you, puzzle you, and maybe even amaze you. Come and join us. Sunday, November 11 and Monday, November 12 at 7:00 pm.

It’s Shaw. What could be better?

Peter Van Norden
November, 2012

Antaeus member Peter Van Norden on our next offering in ClassicsFest 2012: Part Two – Don Juan in Hell.  Peter plays The Devil.  Of course.  Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.