|THE LITTLE FOXES|
In any theatrical season, a revival of Lillian Hellman’s 1939 family drama, “The Little Foxes,” would be welcome. Hellman’s play is a remarkably well-structured work, full of complex (if primarily less-than-likable) characters, and fully stocked with a variety of themes that resonate today – perhaps, especially today -- from the lifelong effects of sibling rivalry, the underappreciation and mistreatment of women and minorities, to the devastating consequences of greed and mistrust.
Luckily, Daniel Sullivan’s exceedingly handsome and solid production, now at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman, captures this landmark work in most of its glory. It may initially look like a period piece, thanks to Scott Pask’s grand Alabama living room and Jane Greenwood’s beautiful turn-of-the-20thcentury costumes, but Sullivan is wise to the play’s contemporary power.
The truly added bonus here for those who can afford (timewise and moneywise) to see the work twice is that stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternate in the key female roles of the money-hungry and arguably heartless Regina Giddens and her sweet-natured alcoholic sister-in-law Birdie Hubbard. To see both casts (the rest of the ensemble remains consistent) is almost like seeing two different plays.
In both, Regina feels consistently slighted by her brothers, the shrewd Ben (an excellent Michael McKean, lending the production some much-needed humor) and the slightly dim-witted Oscar (an effective Darren Goldstein), who were left the family’s business of owning stores. Moreover, she has little love left for her essentially good-hearted yet surprisingly wily husband, Horace (Richard Thomas, in yet another superlative stage turn), a banker with heart conditions both emotional and physical.
Most importantly, Regina is determined to outwit them all to get a share in a potentially lucrative business deal with a Chicago businessman, Mr. Marshall (David Alford) and escape her stifling existence. Consequences matter not to Regina, whether it’s the premature death of the extremely ill Horace or the alienation of her 17-year-old daughter Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini). She will get what she wants – for once!
Nixon’s approach to the role of Regina is all steel and ice, as if her heart has been literally torn from her body. She can turn on the charm when required (effectively flirting with Mr. Marshall in the opening scene), and she definitely lets us see how, in her own way, Regina is seeking revenge on all men, in part because her father cut her out of his will, and in part because she naturally sees herself as the stronger and smarter gender. She is, in all senses, positively chilling.
Linney’s take is slightly more multi-dimensional and compulsively watchable; there’s more humanity still present in her Regina, even as she proves equally capable of some of the character’s more dastardly doings. She has particularly great chemistry with McKean (they really do seem like siblings cut from the same cloth) and brings Thomas to new heights of rage in their scenes together.
Where the actresses differ most, though, is in their portrayal of Birdie – and here, Nixon wins hands-down in a performance that could earn her a Tony Award. Nixon manages to subsume all her natural strength and intelligence to create a woman who has never escaped her pampered, innocent childhood and copes with her unhappy adulthood by drinking excessively. Her Birdie truly breaks your heart, especially in the gorgeously-written speech in which she finally explains why she married Oscar.
Linney also delivers those words with a master thespian’s precision (at the performance I saw, she got major exit applause), but ultimately, I never fully believed her Birdie would be a willing victim of Oscar, even in 1900. You keep wondering why she didn’t leave Oscar (or at least hit him back), a thought that never entered my mind during Nixon’s turn.
As is evident, Sullivan, long considered Broadway’s finest “actor’s director,” mostly lives up to his reputation here. Caroline Stefanie Clay and Charles Turner are simply outstanding as the family servants, Addie and Cal. Only Michael Benz is way too bland as Oscar and Birdie’s essentially amoral son, Leo.
If you’re as smart at the average fox, you’ll make sure to catch this production at least once!
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon, Darren Goldstein, Michael McKean, Richard Thomas, David Alford, Michael Benz, Francesca Carpanini, Caroline Stefanie Clay, Charles Turner
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/29/2017
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036