A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Little Foxes
In theory, the soulless and rapacious brothers and sisters of the Hubbard and Giddens clan should be sprouting up like so many toadstools at playhouses all over the nation (A current revival is also playing at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and reviewed by Curtainup). Turn of the century plantation life may have a historical reference point, but greed and family dysfunction should never feel dated (See: Lear, King). Still, to make Foxes work, you need a force of nature playing the wicked Queen, the aptly named Regina Giddens., and an equally conniving knave for Ben Hubbard. If you're lucky, you enlist another player with chops to be the ambitious lightweight who is younger brother Oscar.
Director Damaso Rodriguez, the Playhouse's associate artistic director, is indeed fortunate to have (respectively) McGillis, Steve Vinovich and Marc Singer as Regina, Ben and Oscar. Geoff Pierson smoothly embodies the rectitude of Horace Giddens, the foxes' moral counterpoint, and Julia Duffy does a nifty little turn as Oscar's boozy and beaten down southern heiress Birdie. Heck, when you can employ a Tony winner like Cleavant Derricks to play a servant, your lineup is stacked indeed.
That lineup, like its director, serves this play. Hellman is not Tennessee Williams. Nothing in this production, save a silly thunderclap toward the play's conclusion, is melodramatic or forced. Drinks are imbibed, but Hellman's characters know better than to put themselves at any kind of disadvantage when there are schemes to be crafted.
The Hubbards, Ben especially, have little tolerance for doltishness, especially stupidity amidst his own family. There is, after all, business to be conducted, progress to be made and much at stake. Regina wants an escape to Chicago. Oscar looks to cement his entry into the southern aristocracy, if not for himself than via the strategic marriage of his idiotic son Leo (played by Shawn Lee). Ben has no heirs and will never marry. He wants what he wants now. Their respective aims may come together if they get in on a Chicago financier's attempt to bring a cotton plant to their burg in the deep south.
The region's poor blacks may suffer severe exploitation, which means squat to Oscar, Ben et al. But they need buy-in money, and Regina's share — to come courtesy of her banker husband, Horace — is not assured. Horace has been treating a weak heart, and has spent quite a bit of time thinking about the difference between right and wrong, need and greed. He returns from a convalescence in Baltimore and winds up straightaway in the foxes' hole, where the scheming, duplicity and blackmailing quickly begins.
Singer, Duffy and McGillis are easily a decade older than the characters' specified ages. All the better, perhaps, to emphasize the desperation of their respective plights. All have been waiting — for riches, for status, for some, anything, to change. You can see it in the clinch of an expression, a quivery hand or, in Singer's case, in restlessness. The actor can barely keep a seat.
McGillis's Regina is equal parts charm, regality and hardness. Her decisions — past and present — have cost her plenty, and have not been so easily reached. The conflict over whether to immediately fetch a medicine bottle; those unwelcome tears following a confrontation with daughter Alexandra (Rachel Sondag) are authentic and human. This Regina might turn out all right in Chicago luxury, or she might not. Either way, McGillis makes us care, which is no mean feat.
If amorality is more your ticket, there's a certain guilty pleasure relish in seeing Vinovich's Ben Hubbard wax philosophical on the nature of defeat and on what the newly turned century holds for people like himself and his sister. In Vinovich's hands, Ben is a shark, certainly, but a genial one. His entitled, "get it now" approach to life is, alas, still timeless.
In the late 1990s, Glendale's excellent classical company A Noise Within performed The Little Foxes and its prequel Another Part of the Forest in repertory. Smart move. Characters this nasty can use the pre-story context which Hellman provided in her second play (which she wrote seven years later). Although one would hope that Rodriguez might revisit this territory, we can be glad that the Foxes are here now.