THE LITTLE FOXES Review - An Inspiring Classic

The Manhattan Theatre Club New Broadway Production of ,“THE LITTLE FOXES” by LILLIAN HELLMAN, DIRECTED by DANIEL  SULLIVAN….. STARRING and SUPPORTING(on alternate performances):   LAURA LINNEY and CYNTHIA NIXON…..along with DARREN GOLDSTEIN, MICHAEL McKEAN, RICHARD THOMAS, DAVID ALFORD, MICHAEL BENZ, FRANCESCA CARPANINI, CAROLINE STEFANIE CLAY, and CHARLES TURNER. The play opened April 19th and has just been extended to play through July 2nd  2017. Ticket prices $70-$150-MTC 212-239—6200 or the Littlefoxesbroadway website….and it’s worth every PENNY!

See the Little Foxes

What constitutes an American Classic? Several factors, of course. One factor is that the play is now 78 years since its debut in  February, 1939. Then, it has been revived on Broadway numerous times, and there is a classic film adaptation by William Wyler starring Bette Davis in one of her best portrayals as Regina Giddens, which featured much of the original cast from New York such as Patricia Collinge as Birdie, Dan Duryea as Leo Hubbard, Charles Dingle as Ben, and Carl Benton Reid as Oscar; absenting the original leading Southern Belle, Tallulah Bankhead, who had won VARIETY MAGAZINE’S citation of Best Actress  of 1939, allowing Ms. Davis to receive one of HER  numerous Oscar Nominations in the process.

One may well perceive by now that Regina Hubbard Giddens is one of the more coveted characters to play in American culture, along with Williams’ Blanche Dubois, O’Neill’s Mary Tyrone, and Hansberry’s Mama  Lena Younger, to name but three of that legendary caliber. Hence it is nothing less than astonishing on several levels to behold just what is occurring as I write these words, on the venerable stage of the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (formerly, the Biltmore):  That either the doubly brilliant and most becoming talents of Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon are trading  off the challenges of breathing new life into the characters of that beguiling monster of a belle, Regina, and that feckless victim Christian soul of a sister-in-law, Birdie Hubbard from performance to performance, four of the eight times a week, in this still marvel of an etude of avarice penned by Lillian Hellman lo, these nearly eighty years ago!  "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” So wrote Solomon in Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of his name, and which Hellman’s friend and colleague, Dorothy Parker suggested as the reference and title to this not very sweet song of the south.

 

“All acting is character acting.” So said one of the more profound philosophers and presenters of theater of the 20th century, Michel Saint-Denis, initially from France, then England, then  Canada, and at last, here in New York as co-founder with John Houseman of the Drama Division of THE JUILLIARD SCHOOL fifty years ago.  Ms. Linney is a recipient of that formidable education and is a proud honored doctor of that philosophy and from that institution as well as a Tony nominated and Emmy and SAG Award winning exemplar of her craft and art.  Ms. Nixon is besides a Tony, Emmy, and Grammy Award winning star of theater, film, television, which included, lest we forget celebrated “sexual excursions in our fair city”.  She has also been either featured or starring on Broadway since adolescence, and has more than paid off on her initial promise when she was literally dashing from two plays running simultaneously on Broadway in the early ‘80’s that were both directed by Mike Nichols at the time: from one act from one of the plays,”THE REAL THING” to “HURLYBURLY”, DURING THE SAME PERFORMANCES ACROSS THE STREET !YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT!

 

The sense of dedicated ensemble performances from THIS director  (Mr. Sullivan) and cast of expert character acting as well as the two afore lauded ladies, is altogether inspiring in their collective service to Hellman’s classic tragic tale which could not be more RELEVANT to our day’s country and beleaguered culture in this particular “age and body of our time.”

 

Darren Goldstein’s Oscar is all hunger and thirst as the younger brother to Regina and characteristic wife-beater to Birdie. On the night I attended, it was Ms. Linney who most sensitively conveyed Birdie’s infinite vulnerability yet shrewd insight into the family’s dynamics, particularly to her niece, Alexandra Giddens (a study of discovering perception in Francesca Carpanini). Birdie’s inebriated monologue in the latter part of the play was a brilliant display of comedy and pathos with a sudden acuity of protection for a loved one.  Michael McKean’s  Ben Hubbard was wise, ironic, more subtly vicious than his brother Oscar, but astonished and bemused by his underestimation of his sister Regina’s capacity to crush anyone, blood related, or merely by marriage, standing as an obstacle to any and all to which she feels entitled. On this night, Ns. Nixon held those reins on this broodmare of a regal Belle. Regina, as a woman of her time and culture, seeing all going from their father’s estate to her less capable brothers, certainly has her motives for her own security. Her husband, Horace, was unable to fulfill her sense ownership with tragic consequences in their marriage alone. But the unqualified greed pervading the blood in these families constituted a race of blood and competitive speed of their peculiar breed. Truly, she ran this race to its utter completion, all the while knowing every person in her home better than they knew themselves. Yet, at the end, she finds that she knew herself not as well as she thought.

 

Addie (CAROLINE STEFANIE CLAY), and Cal, (CHARLES TURNER) as the African American loyal servants of this Alabama home of 1900, exude a knowledge of “knowing their place” all too well. Both of these actors supply much of the glue to this play and story, much as their character’s origins performed those tasks in the real life as ‘THE HELP’ seemingly forever. Ms. Clay’s Addie is a force of determined devotion and protection to Alexandra and confidant to Horace (the superb RICHARD THOMAS) as the profoundly ailing husband of Regina. Mr. Turner’s Cal is a study in stillness. When his resonant voice is heard, the words are clear, honest, sometimes confused, yet invariably true. Leo, (the perfectly smarmy MICHAEL BENZ), invaluably aids the plot of thievery with a vacuous craft and guilt of idiocy. I must return to Mr. Thomas’ Horace though. His trust of Hellman’s pen in allowing the layers of his past, his present plight in the home upon his return from six month’s in hospital, his manifesting of his terminal heart condition and ultimate realization of his wife’s true nature is a product of a life’s learning on stage and off.  Were I wearing a hat now, it would be doffed in reverence.

 

Mr. Sullivan is, without question, one of the finest stage interpreters of our time. When he has a classic in hand and has assembled such an ensemble of so clear a sense of dedication, sans vanity, to telling the story, there’s not a nuance of life’s observation that escapes him, or those alert in the house. Dear Reader, resident, and visitor to Manhattan, do take to these foxes now through all of June, and  to July 2nd at The Friedman on 47th. They’ll not spoil your vines a jot and may well remind you of what tender grapes Ms. Hellman, still and MTC now has to offer. 

THE FRIEDMAN THEATRE@ 261 W. 47TH ST. by 8th Ave.

Photos: Joan Marcus

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