BWW Review: THE LITTLE FOXES Illuminates Aristocracy, Greed at St. Louis Actors' Studio
Lillian Hellman's 1939 drama, The Little Foxes, is a well-made drama about Southern aristocratic avarice and female suppression. When brothers Oscar (Bob Gerchen) and Ben (Chuck Brinkley) Giddens-who have inherited the whole of their father's fortune-go to their sister Regina (Kari Ely) needing money to build a cotton mill, Regina, the only sister in the Giddens family, must cunningly exploit her depressed husband Horace (William Roth), and outsmart her scheming brothers, if she is to enjoy any independence or wealth of her own. Oscar's alcoholic wife Birdie (Lauri McConnell) earns the most empathy in this story, as Oscar has only married her for her inheritance, and mercilessly mistreats her. Their son Leo (Ryan Lawson-Maeske) and Regina's daughter Alexandra (Bridgette Bassa) face a bleak future in no better shape, with Oscar attempting to marry the first cousins in a further attempt to get at Horace's money. Cal (Dennis Jethro II) and Addie (Wendy Greenwood) as the family's servants and Richard Lewis as Chicago businessman Marshall round out this cast, each adding a layer of complexity to the anguish this family has brought upon themselves.
St. Louis Actors' Studio opens its twelfth season with The Little Foxes, pulling off this big show in the small space of the intimate and welcoming Gaslight Theater, utilizing a few well-chosen set pieces featuring rich tapestries and well-to-do costumes, all accentuated with warm, complimentary lighting. The teals, sages, and burgundies on Patrick Huber's set and in his lighting design, and in Megan Harshaw's costumes all flatter one another, coming together to evoke affluence and attention to detail. Two distractions, unfortunately, were Bassa's ill-fitting wig and the sound cue for the Giddens' front door, which sounded every time like an accidental mic tap.
Ely is simply splendid as Regina, employing her finely-tuned acting talents and creating a believable character who has mastered the art of quiet, studied manipulation. Likewise, McConnell successfully portrays a complex, fractured eccentric who is anything but a caricature of early 20th century womanhood. McConnell's fantastic monologue in Act 3 (yes, this is classic and conventionally longish 3-act play) elicits much compassion for Birdie's sad plight and lack of an escape route. Modern audiences may not identify so much with the entrapment these women, Cal, and Addie experience, however all are fantastically successful in their depiction of their individual struggles in a society where white, upper-class men control all the money and all the property. Greenwood, especially, was supremely engaging but never upstaging, with her poignant and telling expressions. Other notable performances were a flawlessly powerful Brinkley throughout, and Lawson-Maeske with his youthful, expressive comic relief, particularly in his shared scene with Gerchen at the top of Act 2.
The Little Foxes, directed by John Contini, makes for a wonderful night of theatre and will certainly provoke stimulating conversation following. It plays at The Gaslight Theater through October 14. For tickets and/or more information about St. Louis Actors' Studio, visit http://stlas.org.