‘Foxes’ takes a tender look at family and the costs of love

Raphel Famotibe and Tosin Alabi in "Foxes."
Raphel Famotibe and Tosin Alabi in “Foxes.”
Carol Rosegg

What is the cost of living authentically? It’s a particularly poignant and timely question given the current zeitgeist in the US, where civil rights and even talking about LGBTQ identities is under increasingly vitriolic attack. That question is at the center of Dexter Flanders’ delicate and profoundly moving play, “Foxes,” now at 59E59 Theaters as part of the organization’s Brits Off Broadway program. 

Set in the highly religious Caribbean community in London, the play tells the story of Daniel, a young Black man who has gotten his Muslim girlfriend, Meera, pregnant. When Meera is thrown out of her house as much for violating her dogmatic religion as getting pregnant, Daniel’s mother, Patricia, takes her in, though her Christian precepts are challenged as well. Meanwhile, during a mostly friendly fight with his best friend, Leon, Leon kisses Daniel, and the two realize they have feelings for one another and begin a largely clandestine relationship. As Black men in their community, being gay is unacceptable, and they are, they feel, forced to conceal their growing love. Daniel, however, can’t bear the weight of his truth and comes out to his mother, who rejects him utterly. No amount of arguing from Daniel or his more progressive sister, Deena, can convince Patricia that Daniel has not been taken over by the devil. Meera, rejected by her family, seemingly abandoned by Daniel, and having only Patricia to take care of her, is at a loss.

Daniel has a choice to make. How does — or can he — keep the family he loves, raise the daughter who is on the way, and still be with Leon in some way? Every choice has a cost, and playwright Flanders explores these with honesty, clear-vision and sensitivity.

Moreover, Flanders sets up what might be called a fair fight. Each of the characters has their own integrity, and what might be reduced to the polemical becomes deeply human, and they are all sympathetic and struggling. The arguments and conflicts are real, and in a spare 90 minutes, Flanders manages to create complex characters with economy and great heart. Moreover, while the play is set in the Black community, its resonance is much broader. Yes, there are cultural elements that are endemic to this particular story, but Daniel’s challenge could be that of anyone who fights for what they want and need. Even when they are conflicted, each of the characters is motivated by love — and love can be very hard work. Daniel’s ultimate choices are as hopeful as they are heartbreaking, and this is, to a degree, a coming-of-age play as Daniel acknowledges that sometimes sacrifices are necessary to care for those we love.

James Hillier has directed the play with great sensitivity that treats each character’s voice with respect. The simple set by Erin Guan and the lighting and video design by Will Monks complement the work and create a sense of space and time that is highly effective.

The cast, too, is outstanding. Suzette Llewellyn as Patricia, Nemide May as Meera, and Tosin Alabi as Deena all deliver rich and nuanced performances. Bayo Gbadamosi as Leon and Raphael Famotibe as Daniel are both extraordinary as they try to negotiate their hearts, their relationship, and who they are in the context of their culture. 

I have to admit I was a bit flummoxed by the title at first. However, foxes in folklore can be cunning — “sly as a fox” — or loyal friends and guardians. They are a mass of characteristics and contradictions, adept at hiding but ferocious in protecting their den. 

It’s a metaphor that has particular resonance during Pride month, and a reminder that for all the advancements we’ve made, our personal and cultural struggles are not over. Love may, in fact, win in the end, but it still needs to be fought for. 

Foxes | 59E59 Theaters | 59 East 59th Street | Tues-Sat 7 p.m.; Sat, Sun 2 p.m. through July 1 | $55.50-$85.50 | 59e59.org | 1 hour, 45 mins, no intermission