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Theatre Review (LA): The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman at the Pasadena Playhouse

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Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes is an American masterpiece. The first Broadway production starred the one and only Tallulah Bankhead. It was later turned into a movie starring the inimitable Bette Davis.

The play deals with the greedy Hubbard clan of Demopolis, Alabama in the year 1900. They cheat, manipulate, lie, marry, and even commit murder to get their share of the family business. The play has been hailed through the years as capturing basic American traits: greed, of course, but also our willingness to do anything to survive. It is still relevant today when you consider the filthy politics in Washington and the business dealings of Bernie Madoff, who stole from family, friends, and charities to make his billions.

Traditionally the play is set in a Southern mansion with a grand staircase that figures prominently in the story. The director of this new production, Damaso Rodriguez, who directed the successful Orson’s Shadow, has chosen to, as he says, “strip it of some of its wealth.” We even see the back wall of the theatre.

The impressive set is by Gary Wissman, with apt period costumes by Mary Vogt and effective lighting by Dan Jenkins. The concept, however, doesn’t really work for me. By stripping the Hubbards of their wealth you eliminate the very thing they are all fighting for. The point is they already have more than enough. Mr. Rodriquez misses some chances for terrifying effects in his direction as well.

The cast is pretty good, featuring Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) as Regina Hubbard and Julia Duffy as her sister-in-law Birdie. Duffy doesn’t seem quite aristocratic enough to portray a fallen debutante. Her drunk scene, however, in which she reveals how her husband beats and humiliates her, and how he married her not for love but for status, is heartbreaking. It is the best scene in the production.

Regina’s brothers are played by Steve Vinovich (Ben) and Marc Singer (Oscar). Shawn Lee is Oscar’s son Leo. Mr. Vinovich does a yeoman-like job and is quite chilling at times. Mr. Singer is good but seems to be playing to the balcony. Leo is appropriately detestable, but if Oscar had detested him too his alienation as well as the humor of the part would have been fully realized.

Ms. McGillis is very good as Regina, but for some reason, perhaps in the name of humanizing the character, she is deprived of her most grand and evil moment: watching her husband die. Instead she is directed to turn front and weep, splitting the focus and diluting the moment.

Geoff Pierson is outstanding as Regina’s husband Horace. I found myself looking at him for much of the evening to catch the nuance and subtlety of his performance.

The Little Foxes will play at the Pasadena Playhouse until June 28.

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