Picture the witch-hunting of "The Crucible" at the hands of a modern Orwellian state and you have the broad contours of Dawn King's "Foxfinder," which receives an atmospheric, take-no-prisoners co-production from Furious Theatre Company in association with Oregon-based Artists Repertory Theatre.
Set in a dystopian near-future Britain where propaganda and scapegoating go together like tea and crumpets, King's sci-fi drama posits a wry solution to the central problem facing any self-respecting totalitarian regime seeking to maintain power amid food shortages wrought by climate change: If you can't target minorities in a post-politically correct world, whom do you single out for blame when things go wrong? Why, those perennial targets of English pest control efforts: foxes.
Under the pretext of investigating suspected misdeeds by the crafty canidae, special government inquisitors wield unlimited power to ensure a compliant populace. A potentially deadly conflict ensues when one of these "foxfinders" (Joshua Weinstein) takes up extended residence at the small farm of a dangerously unstable couple (Shawn Lee, Sara Hennessy) struggling to meet their production quota in the face of crop-damaging floods and the recent death of their young son. The foxfinder insinuates even these disasters attributable to their complicity with foxes — despite objections raised by a defiant neighbor (Amanda Soden) that no one has ever seen the foxes, including the foxfinder himself.
Focused performances limit undue dwelling on what exactly the foxes are intended to represent. Director Dámaso Rodriguez effectively balances King's fanciful, open-ended allegory with visceral realism and mounting tension, despite the story's predictable outcome.
"Foxfinder," Pasadena Playhouse Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb, 2. $20. (626) 356-7529 or www.furioustheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.