This Great Society - Arts



Illustration: Mindy Heins


Joel Bentley: The Fellowship of Foxes
Illustration: Mindy Heins



Years after settling into the routine of matrimony, Mrs. Fox felt a lack in her life. The realization struck her as she was cleaning up from dinner one night, a roasted hare, which she had delicately prepared. Mr. Fox was in the living room, slouching in a recliner and watching his favourite program on THN (The Hunting Network), as was his custom.
              Much to her own surprise, Mrs. Fox found herself saying her thoughts aloud. “I want to direct,” she declared.
              Mr. Fox failed to notice the declaration, consumed as he was by the devouring of a black-woolen sheep.
              Mrs. Fox had studied theatre in college. It was there that she had met Mr. Fox, who saw her performing in a student-written comedy. It wasn’t very funny, but she was vibrant and enchanting. They dated for a year before marrying and moving into a cute little foxhole up in Redwood Hills, a small town far from the city and its established theatre scene.
              “Are you listening to me?” she asked.
              Mr. Fox turned toward her briefly, “Huh? Oh yeah, of course Hon,” then turned back to the kill.
              “I said I want to direct,” she repeated. “I want to direct a play.”
              “Sounds good,” said Mr. Fox. On the screen, the strong and skilled Foximus was demonstrating how to dress a kill.
              Accustomed to her husband’s absent affirmation, Mrs. Fox rolled her eyes.

Redwood Hills was a small town, a nice town, but not altogether a perfect town. What it boasted in charm it lacked in culture, at least as far as Mrs. Fox was concerned. Sure, there was the arena, where foxes, beavers, and moose alike all took part in the annual Christmas skate. And there was the Redwood County Bookfair, where the town turned out in droves to purchase paperbacks of their favourite stories. But for the most part, the locals tended their vegetable farms. And although there was a small theatre, it was seldom used.
              Seeking to reacquaint herself with the world of thespians, Mrs. Fox sought Wells A. Mole, the town librarian, who supplied her with every Shakespeare in the library’s collection: Romeo + Juliet and Hamlet.
              “Is that it?”
              “Why, what do you mean, is that it? These are the two greatest plays of all time!”
              “What about Othello, Macbeth, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well?”
              “Those are hacks.”
              “Oh please.”
              “If they’re so great, then why don’t we have them?”
              Mrs. Fox simply shook her head.

Back in the foxhole, sitting in the comfy green chair in the reading room, Mrs. Fox began her research. Mr. Fox was on his laptop, checking stats on his Pineball team.
              “Wow, look at that! Pavlovich Kozi scored a triple last night!”
              “Who’s that?”
              “A Russian wolfhound.”
              “Of course,” she said, returning to Hamlet.
              “If he keeps this up he’ll lead the league by the end of the month.”
              “Uh huh,” said Mrs. Fox, absently.
              “His points-per-game keeps climbing.”
              Tired of stats and feeling inspired, Mrs. Fox quoted, “To be, or not to be: that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?’”
              Mr. Fox stared at her blankly, then returned to his stats.
              She sighed. “Frailty, thy name is man.”

Feeling confident after her reading of Shakespeare, Mrs. Fox set a date for the play. She then sent out casting calls through the town gossip, Julia Parakeet. Within a week the town was buzzing with news.
              “Did you hear that Badger has been cast as Mercutio?”
              “A fine choice.”
              “And Fisher as the Friar?”
              “But he’s a recluse.”
              “Well, I think there ought to be a spot for me.”
              “You could play old Capulet.”
              “Capulet! What about Romeo?”
              “He’s already been cast.”
              And so he had. Seeking to draw a broad audience, Mrs. Fox had cast the TV star and renowned hunter Foximus in the lead male role. For Juliet, she cast herself.
              Casting moved along quickly, until eventually half the town was active in rehearsals.
              “My naked woman is out. Quarrel! I will hack thee,” cried Terry the Raccoon.
              “Ahem,” said Mrs. Fox, interrupting for the umpteenth time, “My naked weapon is out. I will back thee.”
              “Ah, sorry miss,” said Terry.
              The rehearsals continued in this manner. Mrs. Fox would correct, refine, remind, adjust and direct her players. She described elaborate sets, and the designers went about their tasks diligently until she returned, only to find a square plywood arch decorated in weeds. Correct, refine.

Mr. Fox didn’t take much notice in the play, consumed as he was by the stats and success of the teams and athletes in his Pineball pool. (He was currently sitting in first.)
              “Why don’t you come watch one of my rehearsals?” Mrs. Fox pleaded one night.
              “Honey, these stats won’t check themselves.”
              Mrs. Fox rolled her eyes, but continued. “It’s coming along well, I think. There are the odd hiccups, I admit. And the lot can hardly remember their lines, but I think they’re capturing the spirit of the tale.” She paused, thinking. “Well, at least Foximus is.”
              Mr. Fox turned his head. “What?”
              “Foximus. Didn’t I tell you? He’s playing Romeo.” She had not told him.
              “Foximus, really? The strong and skilled Foximus? The TV star and renowned hunter?”
              “That’s him.”
              “He’s an actor?”
              “Ha ha ha,” Mr. Fox let out a laugh. A hearty, uncontrollable laugh. “An aspiring actor. Ha ha ha.”
              Mrs. Fox retired to her reading room.

Another week passed and Mr. Fox began to notice his wife’s absence. She had been skipping out on their evening walks, often returning home late, and angering him with her late dinners. (Hungry as he was, he was not much of a cook.) She would rise early, reviewing a section of the play and the nuances of each part before leaving for the theatre. There she would do her rounds: check the set, assess costume progress, and talk to each actor in turn before rehearsing individual scenes.
              Eventually curiosity overtook Mr. Fox, and he visited the theatre one afternoon. He slid silently into the back row, careful not to disturb or be noticed. There he saw his wife up on stage, glowing in a white gown and speaking with elegant emotion.
              “What storm is this that blows so contrary? Is Romeo slaughtered, and is Tybalt dead? Then, dreadful trumpet, sound the general doom! For who is living if those are gone?”
              A fawn, playing the Nurse, responded, “Tybalt is gone, and Romeo banished. Romeo that killed him—he is banished.”
              Mr. Fox continued watching for some time before slipping out and making his way home. Once there, he came into the reading room, picked up a book with the name Shakespeare printed in bold on its cover, and began to read.

On the night of the play, the town turned out in droves. Every seat of the auditorium was filled. Squirrels and birds crowded in the rafters, wildcats in the aisles. The crowd was abuzz with anticipation, filling the room with chatter, chirps and cheer.
              The house lights dimmed, and a single spotlight shone on centre stage. Silence fell upon the crowd, until Mrs. Fox appeared from behind the curtain. Applause erupted. She blushed and gave a little side wave, then quieted down her audience.
              “Thank you, thank you,” she said. “Thank you all for coming. Every one of you has played a part in this production I’m sure, in some small way. I hope you enjoy it. Now, I’m happy to present to you Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet!”
              Another applause echoed through as she slipped back behind the curtain and the play began.
              Raccoons fight porcupines in the opening scene. The Prince, a striped skunk, throws a masquerade, where Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love. Foximus is loud and dramatic as Romeo. Mrs. Fox is charming and lovely as Juliet.
              There was an intermission following the third act, and everyone—the owls, cougars and otters alike—said that it was a great rendition of the classic.
              The actors appeared for the final two acts, beaming and ready to close out the evening. As the climax approached, Juliet took up the poison and was about to drink when a cry rings out offstage.
              “A bloody deed!”
              A collective gasp filled the theatre as a caped figure emerged.
              “Almost as bad, good mother, as kill a king, and marry his brother!” The figure removed his mask, tossing it into the crowd. It was Mr. Fox who, sensing the need for clarification, shouted, “It is I! Hamlet!”
              Mrs. Fox, aghast, asked, “What are you doing here?”
              There was a short pause. Then Mr. Fox replied, “To be or not to be: that is the question.”
              Out in the crowd, a beaver stood to proclaim, “This is madness!”
              “Though this be madness, yet there is a method in it,” said Mr. Fox, addressing his accuser.
              “Stop! Go! Get off the stage!” said Mrs. Fox.
              “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”
              Mr. Fox conceded, but before he could turn to make his shameful exit, a single tomato hit him square in the face. Then a cabbage. Until soon there were all sorts of vegetables flying at the caped thespian. Turnips. Brussels sprouts. Beets.
              “That it should come to this!” At that Mr. Fox turned and ran, followed by a volley of greens.
              With her husband gone, Mrs. Fox stood alone amidst the clutter of smashed legumes. She turned towards the crowd, dismayed and embarrassed. She hung her head, folding her hands together. Then, after a long and soothing breath, she raised her head.
              “The show must go on!” and the audience stood in a grand huzzah. The play recommenced. Romeo and Juliet proceeded to their tragic ends, the audience cried and the curtains closed. Julia Parakeet sat in dismay, knowing that with the whole town in attendance, there would be no one to tell such glorious gossip.
              Backstage, Mrs. Fox found her cowering husband. He sat in ruin with a bouquet of roses, which he held out as a shield as she approached. She took the flowers and sat next to him.
              “Well?” she said.
              “Well,” he began. “I’m sorry.”
              “I should say so.”
              “I just wanted to play a part. I came a week ago and saw you rehearsing. This world you’ve created, it’s… it’s…”
              “It’s more interesting than stats.”
              Mrs. Fox laughed. “Well, thank you.”
              “And honey?”
              “I want to act.”

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