Photo by Owen Carey

LAST WEEKEND, Artists Rep opened the US premiere of Foxfinder, a script by playwright Dawn King that ran to much acclaim in London in 2011.

The show, given a deliberately grim, sparse staging by Artists Rep, is about a dystopian society in which an unlikely scourge is invoked to keep a fearful populace in check: According to the government, the single greatest menace facing the nation is... the fox. The legend of the fox has been stoked to outlandish proportions (their claws are like knives! They control the weather!), even as no one alive can remember actually seeing one in the flesh.

The elusive fox functions as a lightning rod for both the problems of England as a whole, and the troubles of one couple, whose farm is in danger of failing to meet government-mandated quotas even as they struggle to move past the death of their only son. When a 19-year-old inspector (Joshua Weinstein) is sent to check up on them, he insinuates himself into their lives, prying into every detail and developing feelings for the farmer's wife (Sara Hennessy) in the process. Meanwhile, the farmer (Shawn Lee) clings to the idea that a fox might be responsible for his son's death, to the dismay of his resolutely practical wife.

Playwright King has a fine sense of the absurd, but the show's humorous elements are quickly eclipsed by Very Serious Matters that unfold predictably. Here's the thing: You've gotta assume your audience has read Orwell. Brave New World, too, and Bradbury, and The Hunger Games. Foxfire is part of a rich tradition of dystopian fiction, but it adds little to the genre, either in concept or conventions. (Portland Center Stage ran into the same problem with Futura a few years back.) Foxfire is very explicitly a parable, which means it very explicitly has things to say about the world we live in. Unfortunately, those things are all pretty much summed up by the show's premise, and the story that unfolds on the back of that premise is neither original nor particularly eye-opening.