BWW Review: THE LITTLE FOXES: Lillian Hellman's Classic Bares Its Fangs At Lyric Stage
The Little Foxes
Written by Lillian Hellman, Directed by Scott Edmiston; Scenic Design, Janie E. Howland; Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley; Lighting Design, Karen Perlow; Sound Design/Original Music, Dewey Dellay; Assistant Director, Kate Franklin; Fight Director, Jesse Hinson; Dialect Coach, Bryn Austin; Props Artisan, Cesara Walters; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell; Assistant Stage Manager, Geena M. Forristall
Eighty years after the Broadway premiere of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes, the Lyric Stage Company production, under the direction of Scott Edmiston, demonstrates that the classic American drama has lost none of its punch. A titanic team of actors portrays the dynamic within the rapacious Hubbard family and the collateral damage they impose on all who have the misfortune of being in their path. Without exception, the characters are three-dimensional, fully realized, and thoroughly alive, compelling the audience to engage with them on an intensely emotional level.
Set in a small town in the South in the spring of 1900, the world of the play is vividly imagined by the combined artistic efforts of Janie E. Howland (scenic), Gail Astrid Buckley, (costume), Karen Perlow (lighting), and Dewey Dellay (sound/original music). The majesty of the living room of the Giddens House, with its rich, dark paneling, sparkling chandeliers, upright piano, and spiral staircase, presages the social and financial stratum of society of the inhabitants, reinforced by the formal attire worn by Regina Hubbard Giddens (Anne Gottlieb), her brothers Benjamin (Remo Airaldi) and Oscar (Will McGarrahan), and their guest of honor, a Chicago businessman, William Marshall (Bill Mootos). Their mannered behavior, the expensive-looking furnishings, and a pair of African American servants paint an evocative family portrait.
The visual beauty of the home and the surface gentility of the siblings belie their arrogance, avarice, and cruelty as they scheme to complete a lucrative business deal, partially financed by Marshall. It has been Ben's dream to erect a cotton mill locally, but, in addition to an outside partner, they need a sizable commitment from Regina's husband, Horace Giddens (Craig Mathers), for a third of the pot. Unfortunately, he has been staying in Baltimore for the past five months, owing to his ill health, and his return is in doubt. Not wanting to be left out of the deal and the riches it promises (since tradition deprived her of the benefit of any inheritance from their father), Regina assures the men that Horace will be home soon and will contribute the necessary $75,000 for their share. She dispatches her 17-year old daughter Alexandra (Rosa Procaccino) to bring him back, knowing that Horace will respond far better to her than any entreaty from his wife.
In the first act, Hellman introduces all of the characters, except for Horace, and clearly reveals the pecking order. If the people were placed in a pyramid configuration, the servants Addie (Cheryl D. Singleton) and Cal (Kinson Theodoris) would be at the bottom, providing a solid foundation for the household, displaying dignity and humility, even as their employers rely on them and figuratively step on their backs to keep their lives running smoothly. On the next level are the children, Oscar's son Leo (Michael John Ciszewski) and Alexandra, whose lives are pretty much circumscribed by their elders. Oscar's wife Birdie (Amelia Broome) might be on a plane with the children, only because she and Alexandra share a bond, and she has very little standing as a woman. Regina occupies a platform of her own and constantly scrambles to achieve the level occupied by her brothers at the top of the structure.
The plot thickens when Horace enters the picture in the second act. Like Birdie, he is outside the family circle, but his gender and his money give him standing. Mathers conveys the schism in unspoken cues, as well as in the shouting matches with Regina. His physical appearance is grey and unsteady (kudos to makeup designer Jason Allen), but he finds the strength to push back against giving the Hubbards what they want from him. His character requires range, and Mathers is tough and unrelenting with his wife, while tender and loving with his daughter and Birdie, and respectful toward the servants. Singleton and Theodoris do a remarkable job of playing their roles without any stereotypical tropes and projecting an innate intelligence that the characters can't always show openly. (A program note cautions that The Little Foxes reflects the social and racial attitudes of its time and contains language and references that are inappropriate and offensive.)
The brothers don't come across very positively, but Airaldi and McGarrahan inhabit their multi-faceted characters. Ben is the brains of the operation and you can practically see the wheels turning in his head. Oscar is more bully than brainy, but gets things done. He is training Leo to follow in his footsteps, but Ciszewski lets us see that the young man's capabilities are not fully formed. He tries to get by on his good looks and his family connections, but mostly he's snarky. They all show their true colors in the way they deal with the women in their lives, but Alexandra and Regina push back, while Birdie is at their mercy.
Broome's performance is one of the highlights, even in this cast of outstanding performers. She is alternately heartbreaking and cheery, but every emotional shift is honest and realistic. Her scenes with Alexandra are touching, and she and Procaccino share a convincing connection. The latter captures her character's awakening to what is going on within the family and recoils convincingly, finally spewing her anger and vitriol full force at her mother. And Mommy Dearest ain't got a thing on Regina Giddens. The Little Foxes really is her story, with everything revolving around her and her manipulations, and Gottlieb is brilliant in the role. There isn't a person in the cast who doesn't hold their own with her, but she commands attention and consumes as much air as she can because Regina will not go gently into the night.
Edmiston's direction is focused and expansive, honing in on the details of each character and using every inch of the stage to draw us fully into the living experiences of the family. He gives the actors room to breathe and take the time they need to find the core of their characters. While honoring the play's essential elements, Edmiston's staging manages to infuse it with a contemporary sensibility and acknowledgement of our times and customs. The themes of greed and corruption ring as true as they did eighty years ago, making it unlikely that this breed will face extinction any time soon.