SAN DIEGO — Welcome home, Kim McCallum--and bravo!
"The Fox," based on a D.H. Lawrence short story and adapted for the stage by Allan Miller, is the perfect herald for McCallum's return to the Bowery Theatre, which he founded, nurtured and gently shoved out of the nest. Since last year, he has worked with playwright Mark Medoff at New Mexico State University and the American Southwest Theatre.
McCallum is still officially the artistic director of his theater. He always will remain so, it seems, but his glorious summer visit is temporary. All the more reason to catch this splendid actor/director at work before "The Fox" closes Aug. 3.
Appropriately, the play begins with a homecoming. The year is 1918, a time still saturated with enough Victorianism to give the story its thick fiber of repressed sexuality.
An English soldier, Henry Grenfel (McCallum), on a short leave before returning to duty in Canada, arrives at his grandfather's rural farmhouse in central England to discover it now occupied by two young women, Nellie March (Mickey Mullany) and Jill Banford (Paulette Mayne).
Miller's adaptation stays true to the spirit of Lawrence's subtle, metaphorical style. Gracefully, delicately, we are given just enough information to realize that these women do not live together in this remote setting, trying to eke their living through the endless, back-breaking chores of a working farm, because they are bound by a simple friendship.
Nellie wears the pants--literally--does most of the hard work and seems to be the protector of her bedmate, Jill, who is capable of both giddy exultation at having a visitor and dark suspicion over the attraction he seems to have for Nellie, or their farm, or both.
McCallum, who also directed, is all blustery youth at first, fitting himself easily into Grenfel's 20 years and his tan, leather-patched jodhpurs and spats (wonderful costumes by Ingrid Helton). He is soon quite at home on the farm, helping with chores and chickens who wouldn't lay until his arrival (Lawrence's first metaphorical clue), and edgily prowling the bare wooden floor during the long wintry evenings, while Jill and Nellie sit quietly sewing or painting.
Grenfel is given to wandering the woods at night. As a youth, his odd habits had him labeled a troublemaker by rural neighbors, but his keen instinct for the ways of nature have made him a skilled hunter. He quickly provides a pheasant for the women's table.
As McCallum and cast unfold the powerful allusions to the fox that has been carrying off the hens, one at a time, and haunting Nellie's dreams, the theater heats up.
McCallum's red, foxlike hair and his native intensity that explodes into Grenfel's righteous outbursts add to the watcher's suspicion that this role was somehow written just for him. It wasn't, of course, but this actor's brilliance is once again confirmed.
Mullany and Mayne do their part to showcase McCallum's power as a director, each matching his performance by producing a compatible depth and tension in Nellie and Jill.
As Nellie, Mullany faces McCallum head on, the scared rabbit looking into the eyes of her devourer, trembling and melting and fighting and longing all at once. Although barely touching, the two nearly disintegrate the front row seats when they finally come together.
Mayne is left to sputter and worry and finally collapse inside, gradually building Jill's paranoia as a loser in the test of will between hunter and victim.
Lawrence Czoka has supplied an original score of foreboding sounds, a chill wind of music that touches the back of the neck just enough to be noticeable. J.A. Roth's lighting is excellent, warming the wooden furniture and dirty plaster walls of Erik Hanson's farmhouse set with the filtered lamplight of decades past.
Perhaps the only complaint is that the story is too short--just 90 minutes (played without intermission) to savor a fine drama based on the work of an excellent writer, brought to life by people who have given all of themselves to the task. In every way, the production honors D.H. Lawrence, from the calculatedly suppressed style of the acting, to the poetry of music, light, movement and script.
Not enough people will be able to see "The Fox" during its run at The Bowery. The theater is too small a showcase for such talent--yet that's what makes this production all the more precious to lucky San Diegans who know where to find genuine theater.
By Allan Miller, based on a story by D. H. Lawrence. Directed by Kim McCallum. Stage manager, Kathy Hansen. Set design, Eric Hansen. Costume design, Ingrid Helton. Lighting design, J.A. Roth. Original music and sound design by Lawrence Czoka. With Mickey Mullany, Paulette Mayne and Kim McCallum. At 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 3 at The Bowery Theatre, 480 Elm St., San Diego.