We don’t need Patricia MacCormack’s argument for an ahuman theory of ethics to acknowledge that ‘nonhumans don’t care’: to appreciate that the nonhuman animals assimilated into human discourse, endlessly re-grouped and set against one another, ‘don’t care’ about news stories (or play scripts). Thank goodness. Three weeks ago Melbourne’s population of red fox, vulpes vulpes, was again mentioned in local news, under the headlines ‘Fox Massacres Melbourne Zoo Penguins’, and ‘Fourteen Penguins Killed in Fox Rampage at Melbourne Zoo’. Presuming readers’ sympathetic (domesticating) identification with the ‘little’ penguins, these headlines demonise the figure of the fox. As such, they distil from the news a moral tale with an ancient heritage—a tale, however, more usually driven by contentious humour.
There are plenty of sharp nods to this heritage in the script Undercoat: A Parafoxical Tale. The project first glimmered in my imagination years ago when I read about a fox found trapped at the rear gate of the Melbourne Zoo. As noted in an essay for Writing from Below (which you can read here), Undercoat takes the absurd liberty of anthropomorphising no fewer than three foxes. Or is it three-and-a-half? Set in an Australian landscape, this fable ‘for performance in seven scenes’ begins edging off the page this week, in anticipation of three showings as part of La Mama Theatre’s Explorations series. Inwardly I hear the chant of the character Ruber becoming more insistent, ‘Be careful, be careful, be careful what you fox for!’ … .
Peter Wiltshire, longtime ranger at the Darebin Parklands, kindly agreed to be interviewed while I was researching for Undercoat. In Australia’s inner urban environments, Wiltshire says, foxes have no natural predators. ‘They’re extraordinary creatures’, he begins, ‘they’re flighty, moving continually. They disappear into the grass, they’re agile, extremely fast, well balanced’. At one level Wiltshire’s interview suggests that, mercifully, gloriously, no combination of adjectives can suffice to convey—let alone ‘capture’—human impressions of a fox’s singularity. Quite simply, like the quickening aliveness of a rehearsal, a fox, or a penguin for that matter, is not what we think.