Lyric's "Little Foxes": The Gripes of Wealth

The Cast of "The Little Foxes"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

When playwright Lillian Hellman wrote The Little Foxes back in 1939, audiences were already well aware of her social and political views, having seen them as integral bases for her plays such as The Children's Hour and Dead End. This time her target was the corrupt underbelly of the American dream, wherein she exposed the fundamental avarice so rampant in those (and these) times. In its current revival of her work, Lyric Stage Company doesn't shy away from the internecine struggle of a family whose values, such as they are, betray their warped priorities and insatiable hunger and greed. It takes place in 1900 in a small town in Alabama where the members of the family plot against one another to seize control of the family wealth. The plot served as a basis for a 1941 film version as well as the 1948 opera Regina by Marc Blitzstein, the same year Hellman wrote a prequel, Another Part of the Forest (set in 1880). But it'sThe Little Foxes that provides a villainess we love to hate, which is a major reason this play keeps getting revived so frequently.

Anne Gottlieb & Amelia Broome in "The Little Foxes"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

That villainess would be Regina Hubbard Giddens (Anne Gottlieb). In a day when paternal fortunes went only to sons as legal heirs, she is determined to outwit her two brothers, Benjamin (Remo Airaldi) and Oscar (Will McGarrahan) in their struggle to control the family's fortunes. She receives no support from her very cautious wheelchair-bound husband Horace (Craig Mathers) as her siblings aim to build a cotton mill, but need money from Regina and Horace to do so; meanwhile, they are exploiting the poor by gaining still more money for themselves. Not coincidentally, Oscar's wife Birdie (Amelia Broome), whom he married solely for her money, owns a cotton plantation. They all scheme to set up Regina and Horace's daughter Alexandra (Rosa Procaccino) and Oscar's son, bank teller Leo (Michael John Ciszewski), for a future dynasty, to no avail. Pressure is put on Leo to commit a crime to accomplish their aims . Meanwhile Horace tells Regina he's going to leave all his fortune to Alexandra, but doesn't get to alter his will. There follow some cataclysmic events (no spoilers here) involving such familial traits as theft, blackmail, virtual murder and extortion. Talk about family values.

Kinson Theodoris, Amelia Broome & Cheryl D. Singleton in "The Little Foxes"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

And what a fascinating family it is. Airaldi and McGarrahan, both actors well-known locally, are as sinister as they come, and Mathers creates a memorable spin as the vulnerable Horace. Procaccino and Ciszewski give well-rounded portrayals as the manipulated offspring. Also in the cast are Mr. Marshall (the sublimely oily Bill Mootos), who presents the family with the controversial business venture, their maid Addie (Cheryl D. Singleton), an actress who can speak volumes with her silence, and Cal (Kinson Theodoris), whom the family commandeers into helping them against Regina. It says something when even the smallest supporting roles are filled by such accomplished performers. But it's Broome and Gottlieb on whom this play's riches (in more ways that one) depend, and they don't disappoint. One can easily imagine what fun it might have been to alternate these two women in these roles, as was done in a recent revival in New York. This is literally a stellar production.
In these days of paltry ninety minute two-handers, it's refreshing to have three acts with two intermissions, count them, for a total of 150 minutes, and a production with really memorable sets and scenery. Dynamically Directed by Scott Edmiston, it boasts stunning Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland (with a suggestively grand staircase, and gaudy chandeliers), exquisite Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley (truly elegant including the impossible-to-miss fur stole for Regina), dramatic Lighting Design by Karen Perlow and engrossing Original Music and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay. It's unsettling to see how zealously the rich never cease seeking to become still richer. Interestingly, in the current film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the master forger played by Melissa McCarthy is watching (and matching word-for-word) none other than the Bette Davis-led film version of The Little Foxes. What goes around, comes around.

The Cast of "The Little Foxes"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

There remain some issues with the play itself, which has been criticized in the past for its melodramatic moments and traditional playwrighting baggage (characters arriving on set just as others conveniently exit, Mr. Marshall's awkward reference to the family's living by the “teachings of Christ”, and the like). There is at several points significant lack of subtlety as well. But there is also clever attention to detail (a description of Horace's safe deposit box that includes a piece of a violin, hinting at how he and Birdie might have had a future together, for example, or the description of a dream about lengthening fingers that with little difficulty could apply to rapacious claws). Or Regina's comment on being reminded about their grandparents marrying as first cousins (“and look at us”).

The title comes from no less than the Old Testament, chapter 2 verse 15 of Song of Solomon: Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes”. It remains to be seen if Regina and her like enjoy the spoils of their destructive natures. In the end, Regina reaps what she has sown, as “one who eats the earth”, and is left with.....well, be careful what you wish for.

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