BWW Review: THE LITTLE FOXES at Elmwood Playhouse
"Bitingly sinister" and "one of the most cruelly realistic character studies yet seen" was the way Lillian Hellman's classic play, "The Little Foxes," was first described. And amazingly enough nearly a century later it retains all of its odious power.
Echoes of Ibsen and Faulkner abound in Miss Hellman's awful tale of a repugnant family in a small Southern town at the turn of the 19th-20th century. It is an acrid fable of treachery and greed that (sadly) seems perfectly contemporary in 2019 America.
Three diabolically avaricious siblings fight for control over their dwindling family fortune, as the world around them is changing and they can no longer enrich themselves by exploiting the inhabitants of their town.
irector Alan Demovsky has done a superb job of placing the underlying motivations of characters front and center. Placing the action in an "in the round" setting thrusts all the backstabbing and greed right into the audience's lap. Demovsky focuses with great insight on the revolving power struggle among his well-balanced cast of characters, impressively maintaining the sense of a repressive social order and southern gentility. The cold and callous disregard for people's lives in pursuit of wealth is especially prescient in today's America.
The production has a quite a few overly melodramatic moments (and some eye-rollingly over the top southern accents) but generally Demovsky's cast proceeds with little sentimentality, allowing the playwright's acid-laced words speak for themselves. In a brilliant piece of dramatic exposition, Hellman introduces her Hubbard family at a dinner party in which virtually every character reveals their history and their revolting natures. At the heart of the story, Ben and Oscar Hubbard boast to a potential new business partner of their cleverness in basically stealing via marriage the family plantation of Oscar's tender-hearted wife, Birdie.
Derek Tarson as Ben and John Ade as Oscar are superficially polite, but their well-dressed veneers provide little cover for their brutish, ruthless greed. Add to this mix a hint of abusive sexism and you have two perfectly unlikeable villians.
Regina, upon whom the story focuses, is a horrid person, but one who learned early that she must use whatever wiles she can simply to survive in this family of vipers.
Janet Gaynor-Matonti is cold and domineering as Regina, with a wide repertoire of glares and sideways glances, Matoni conveys Regina's reptilian personality. A women in a man's world, Regina must be consistently on guard against her double-dealing brothers. She is trying to prevent her brothers from essentially stealing the family fortune and cutting her out, but she is hindered by a gravely ill husband, Horace (heroically played by Peter Kelly) and her witless teenage daughter, Alexandra (portrayed delicately in a ball of emotional confusion by Julia Riley.) Regina's ambition and ruthlessness is first embodied in her willingness to marry off Alexandra, to Birdie and Oscar's insipid, lazy son, Leo (Aaron Newcombe) just to keep the money in the family.
Meg Sewell steals the show with her poignant portrayal of Birdie, who is literally and figuratively beaten down by her husband and by extension his family. Sewell's fragile Birdie, emanates class as she tries desperately to muster defiance against the goings-on. Horace, sick of the rapacious ways of his wife and her brothers, tries in vain to protect his daughter from her mother and her vile family as the wheels crush onward. Addie, the Hubbard's servant provides a subtle voice of reason (Bea Pohl) warns Alexandra that: "There are people who eat the earth... and other people who stand around and watch them eat it." Addie can only watch in not-well-concealed disgust as the family consumes itself.
Demovsky and his production designer, Bill Mentz, have created an opulent set that effectively conveys the power of the family and the emptiness of their hearts, and the in the round setting works very well.
The Little Foxes remains an American classic because it holds up a mirror to our vulgar, repugnant and repellant past - a past that we like to think we have moved forward from, but a past that sadly and stunning has reared its ugly head again in our society. It is an important and chilling play. If you have seen it in the past - you should revisit it. If you've never seen it - get over to Elmwood Playhouse right away.
The Little Foxes
By Lillian Hellman
July 12 - August 3rd
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