Then everything changed with THE FOX, a stage adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novella that Allan had written as an acting project for himself when he was in his 20s. He’d rehearsed the play with Geraldine Page at the Actors Studio and it had been optioned for Broadway but never produced, then consigned to the bottom of a trunk for the next two decades. In 1981 he showed it to me and I said let’s do it, no one’s paying much attention to what we’re doing anyway, let’s just do something we feel passionate about and who cares if it comes off as a vanity project.
So of course, it was smash hit. There were at least a dozen great actors who played the roles over the months the production ran (all 11 received an acting award of some kind), but the ones who will always be identified in the parts for me were Gretchen Corbett and Jenny O’Hara as the two young women who are trying to make a new life for themselves on a remote farm, and Michael Horton as the young man returning from WWI who challenges everything about their way of life.
John Diehl was originally supposed to play the man’s role but felt conflicted about all the hunting in the play as I recall and left. Then Bruno Kirby took over the role and made it all the way to his costume fitting before deciding he just couldn’t do it. It felt like we had auditioned every actor in his 20s in LA as a replacement but on the last day, the last actor to walk through the door was Michael, and he owned it. No one before or after him so completely understood that the role had to be played with all the real innocence of a creature of nature who does what he has to do almost by instinct. Gretchen and Jenny were the perfect match for Michael and as an ensemble they were a finely honed powerhouse (LA cast pictures below).
EVERY review was a rave and among the 21 awards it garnered for writing, adaption, acting and production, Allan won the LA Drama Critics Award for his direction. But as you can see in the excerpts of the reviews below, the fact that we used a picture of a wolf, not a fox, was emblematic of how little we knew about what we were doing. We had no staff and our live telephone answering service was attempting to answer the phones that were ringing off the hook for tickets.
And then the City of LA Department of Building and Safety shut us down. It turned out that even though there had been a theatre operating in our space for decades, it had never been one legally. As we began the arduous months-long process of bringing the space up to code—architects, blueprints, construction—we decided to move THE FOX to the Las Palmas Theatre in Hollywood (now a music club) in a co-production with L.A. Stage Co. Despite another set of great reviews, the transfer didn’t work in the long run, which was my introduction to the complexity of trying to move a production from a small to mid-size house in L.A. I began to understand how the system in place needed to change, which led to my chairing negotiations with Equity during the waiver wars, but that will have to be the subject of another post.
We did make a deal with the Roundabout Theatre in NYC for an off-Broadway production. They would only allow one actor from the LA production, so it wouldn’t look like a complete transfer, and it turned out to be Jenny as she could stay with her mom, Edith O’Hara, who ran the 13th Street Theatre in NY. Mary Layne played Jill and Anthony Heald played Henry (see NY cast photo). Heald has since become well-known for playing villains and although seeming to agree with Allan’s direction, Heald crossed him and played the character as a sly fox on opening night. I remember Allan chasing him through the lobby and cursing. In any event, Heald had to leave the production for a job and Michael flew in and took over.
Mel Gussow gave THE FOX a great review in the NY Times, and it’s now received hundreds of productions all over the country and the world (the wonderful Elizabeth Marton handled the foreign rights). It’s been translated into French, Spanish, German, and Chinese.
Samuel French published the play, as did Doubleday’s Fireside Theatre (which became Stage & Screen Book Club, now gone). It appeared in the California Arts Council’s West Coast Plays, and a pivotal scene from The Fox is included in The Scenebook for Actors: Great Monologs and Dialogs from Contemporary & Classical Theatre.
We brought THE FOX back in a revival at the Back Alley seven years later, toured it across California, and our involvement with the play continues. Concord Theatricals swallowed up Samuel French and continues to license and promote THE FOX. Allan wrote two pieces for their newsletter, “Breaking Character,” during the pandemic: one talking about the influence of the suffragette movement on D.H. Lawrence; the other on how Allan transformed a novella set almost completed within the characters’ minds into an explosive piece for the stage. In Allan’s words, ”The last ten minutes of the play were a battlefield of desire, power and death. The collective gasp and cry of shock from the audience in performance confirmed the adaptation had worked dramatically. No spoiler alerts– you’ll have to read it to experience it for yourself!”
– Laura Zucker