Barbary Fox (3m, 3w), the most recent addition to the Pendragon cycle, takes place during the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th in Armitage, Pendragon County, Ohio. The unit set represents two houses and the yard between them created by a framework of a ruined gazebo and fragments of old houses with DR an old upright piano and bench, DRC a bed, and DL a round wooden table with chairs. There are two window frames UL and UR, a door frame L, an old sofa C with a broken grandfather clock behind it, and old cabinet with liquor LC, and an old lion-footed bathtub on a platform URC. The action moves back and forth in time and space continuously, and the actors enter and exit or remain in character on stage when not involved in a scene. In darkness we hear the sound of whippoorwills and then, as lights come up, Magenta, wife of Silas Quiller, playing Faure’s Sicilienne on a slightly out-of-tune piano. Barbary Fox is on the bed DR; Bert Astor, her husband, stands looking downstage from the UR window frame; Gretchen, Barbary’s daughter, is sitting on the sofa C; Silas stands by the liquor cabinet; and Rem Astor, Barbary’s uncle, is drinking at the DL table. As Rem, drunk, talks to Barbary at a time when she was a child, Barbary tells Gretchen about her life as a child in the house when her uncle would lock her in the fruit cellar to prevent her from going to the carnival. She says she sat on an old cot in the fruit cellar and read from a trunk full of old books. Gretchen speaks of Barbary and Rem speaks to Barbary as a child, creating a counterpoint of past and present. Gretchen tells us that she married Clyde Quiller, her next door neighbor, although his younger brother Con was so handsome that he gave her bad dreams. Margaret, the sister of Clyde and Con, was Gretchen’s best friend and their father Silas was the best friend of Gretchen’s father, Bert. When Silas asks Magenta why she keeps playing the piano, she asks him if he has been next door again. She wonders why Bert, their next-door neighbor, married “that wretched girl from the dump.” As Magenta boasts of her heritage, Rem speaks again to Barbary as a child.
Gretchen tells us that her mother Barbary was haunted by the sound of whippoorwills and memories of being raised by her uncle Rem. Barbary and Rem speak of their reactions to birds and then speak to each other about why he locks her in the fruit cellar. He tells her not to let people know how smart she is. We heat the sound of a grandfather clock ticking loudly, and Magenta, who has moved to the sofa, tells us that when she was a little girl she would lie in bed and listen to the owls and the clock. Barbary says that when she was fourteen she hated men for the way they looked at her and talked about her behind her back. She hoped that one day somebody would take her to see the ocean where she would wash away her sins. Gretchen, in a sudden shift to a much later time, asks Magenta why she married Silas. Magenta tells her that she can’t remember, that no sane person wants to be touched by any other person. Barbary tells us that she made “an arrangement” with Rem’s two sons, Lemuel and Dobbs, to let her out of the cellar at night. Gretchen confesses that she takes small objects from stores and from people’s houses and hides them in a box in her closet.
We hear crickets as the lights create a night effect and Rem asks Barbary if she wants to hear a bedtime story. She doesn’t but Rem tells her about a girl who sneaked out of her house at night and got eaten by pigs. When Barbary tells Rem to leave her alone, Bert, at a later time, tells her that he can’t leave her alone. He says he wants to marry her so that no one else will ever touch her. When Barbary refers to herself as the town slut, Bert says he doesn’t “give a rat’s ass.” The scene ends as Rem, from another time and place, tells Barbary she doesn’t know anything about love, and Magenta talks of “two damned fools” who tried to put up a lightning rod on the roof during a thunderstorm and got hit and killed by lightning.
Gretchen, sitting at the table and illustrating the family history with glasses, tells us about two houses, side by side, with eight people living in them. She married a Clyde who was not her brother, and her friend Margaret married the Clyde who was not her brother, and the women moved into each other’s house. Gretchen says she is trapped in the house with her late husband’s insane piano-playing mother and that her life is desperately stupid because she killed her own mother. Barbary, in a scene from the past, tells Gretchen that men can’t be trusted. When Bert calls to Gretchen to come to him, she says she is taking a bath.
Bert and Silas, drinking, talk about Silas’ desire for Barbary. Bert says Silas hasn’t slept with her because of friendship; he tells Silas that he has permission to sleep with Barbary as long as Bert can sleep with Magenta. Magenta tells Silas that she knows he wants Barbary. When Silas says that Bert has a crush on Magenta, she asks him why he built a house next door for Bert and gave him a job managing the cheese factory. She thinks Silas must have done something awful that Bert knows about. Rem then talks about repairing a broken old doll and Barbary tells us about going back to the deserted house where she grew up and going down into the fruit cellar. She names some of the books she read there and tells Gretchen that her sister Eva ran off with a knife thrower from the carnival and their cousins Lemuel and Dobbs went after her and were never seen again.
Rem tells Barbary that her parents, Rem’s brother and his wife Tootsie, died in a bizarre accident when the wagon Rem’s brother was driving turned over in a rainstorm and crashed into a ravine. Gretchen tells Silas that she has seen him coming out of her house when her father Bert is not there. Silas tells her that his son Clyde has a crush on her. The action shifts to Rem telling Barbary that people look down on them because they live on Shite Creek by the dump and the fireworks factory and the chicken plucking plant. He says that the fruit cellar is the center of God’s brain. Rem then tells Bert that he cannot marry Barbary, that she is not for sale. He threatens Bert with a gun and tells Barbary that she doesn’t know what love is.
When Magenta asks what happened to Silas, Bert says that he could forget about killing people but that Silas couldn’t. Gretchen, from another time and place, says that she and Margaret look out their windows at each other, Margaret looking at the house where Gretchen is trapped with Margaret’s mother, and Gretchen looking at the house where she killed her own mother. Bert tells Barbary a story about giving Lemuel and Dobbs money to kill their father, Rem, and, from the past, Rem gives Barbary a jewelry box he says belonged to the mother. Barbary asks Silas what happened with Bert when the two of them were riding the rails and living in hobo jungles, and Silas tells her to take her daughter Gretchen and run away. He says she knows what Bert is capable of. Barbary tells Gretchen she knows what her father is doing to her and tells Bert that if he touches Gretchen again she will kill him.
Gretchen tells us she should have run away, but now she is trapped forever. Rem tells us he found Barbary holding her sister Eva after the wagon crashed and killed their parents. Gretchen says she found Barbary in the bathtub with her throat cut and the razor in her hand. Magenta wonders why two grown men (Silas and Bert) were putting up lightning rods during a thunderstorm. She says they were both fried like bacon. Barbary tells Magenta that she is not sleeping with Silas, and Magenta tells us that she went into the bathroom while Barbary was taking a bath and pushed her, causing her to fall and hit her head. Magenta then took the razor and cut Barbary’s throat. Magenta plays “Sicilienne” again as the lights fade and go out. Playing stops. Whippoorwills in darkness.