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The Little Foxes

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 


The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes: Cynthia Nixon (Birdie Hubbard), Darren Goldstein (Oscar Hubbard), Michael McKean (Ben Hubbard),
Laura Linney (Regina Giddens), and Richard Thomas (Horrace Giddens). Photo by Jason Bell.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

There is nothing like a crackling family drama and few deliver it with as much crunch and bite as Lillian Hellman delving into her Alabama gene pool.  However, what makes the current production of Hellman's 1939, The Little Foxes an especially tempting slice of malevolent enjoyment is the bitch-goddess, Regina, and the actress who portrays her.  The Manhattan Theatre Club's answer?  Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon, two talented stage actors, are alternating those Southern belles, one evil, the other damaged and frail.  

Playing against type, this performance starred Linney as the ruthless Regina and Nixon as her saintly alcoholic sister-in-law, Birdie.  Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the time is 1900, and a familiar situation of bringing in an out-of-town factory to the small Alabama cotton-farming town, threatening working-class mill workers' jobs.  Greed and power are the driving forces behind the Hubbard foxes, the close-knit brothers and their sister, Regina, the most ambitious and manipulative.  

The Hubbard brothers are wily Ben (Michael McKean) and Birdie's husband, Oscar played with blatant cruelty by Darren Goldstein.  They control the cotton fields once owned by Birdie's family.  They are currently pooling their money to buy into a mill owned by a Chicago merchant but still need more funds.  This will come, hopefully, from Regina's ailing husband, Horace Giddens, portrayed with sensitivity and intelligence by Richard Thomas.  

Playing against type, Linney's Regina works her dimples, her bright smile and honeyed voice as the only real power she has ever had.  At the top of the play, she is the steely fist within a velvet glove, helping her brothers get the deal set and plotting to get her husband to invest his money.  Intermittently, when her brothers interrupt or Birdie chatters too much, Linney whirls, her face drawn tight, eyes narrowed, daring them not to interfere.  

Determined to get power over her hospitalized husband's money, Regina sends her daughter, Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini), to bring Horace home, although he is not fully recuperated.   Meanwhile her brothers use Oscar and Birdie's sleazy son, Leo (Michael Benz), to steal bonds from Horace's safe deposit box. 

Daniel Sullivan directs a strong cast with actors that let their characters build, especially in a sizzling second half.  Richard Thomas is outstanding as Horace, a businessman who deeply loves his daughter and harbors a long-time disdain for Regina and her brothers that  grows into hatred when he finds that his bonds have been stolen by the Hubbards.  His battles with Regina explode in a fatal heart-rending scene.  His face red, groping for his medicine bottle, he listens to her heinous words. "I couldn’t have known that you would get heart trouble so early and so bad. I’m lucky, Horace. I’ve always been lucky. I’ll be lucky again." 

Birdie, played by Nixon, in an alcoholic daze and fluttery in Jane Greenwald's ruffled dresses, copes with the brutality of her husband.  Nixon evokes empathy for this abused bird, proven in a painful interchange between Birdie and her beloved niece, Alexandra.  Birdie desperately pleads with the girl. "Don’t love me. Because in twenty years you’ll be just like me. They’ll do all the same things to you.  You know what? In twenty-two years I haven’t had a whole day of happiness..."   

Like their sister, the scheming brothers grow even more ruthless.  David Alford as Oscar and Birdie's nasty son, Leo, is plain unlikeable and the servants Carolie Stafanie Clay and Charles Turner have small but definitive supporting parts.   

Scott Pask's Southern mansion set is elegant with late Victorian furniture, lush draperies, windowed double doors and a graceful staircase.  Costume designer Jane Greenwald uses pastel colors for Birdie and rich, sleek dresses for Linney, clearly defining the two personalities. She dresses Horace in an ill-fitting suit when he returns from the hospital, indicating his weight loss.  Justin Townsend's lighting highlights the drama with but unfortunately, the sound was often uneven, especially at the beginning. 

While Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon both shine in their roles, it is easy to imagine them alternating as Regina and Birdie. The Little Foxes is a well-crafted thriller by Lillian Hellman and beautifully delivered at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.  It is a show that is tempting to see again.  


The Little Foxes
MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
150 West 65 Street. NYC
Previews: Mar. 29, 2017. Opened Apr. 19, 2017. Closing June 18, 2017. Extended: July 2, 2017
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.  Two intermissions.
Written:  Lillian Hellman
Directed: Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Laura Linney/Cynthia Nixon (Regina Hubbard Giddens/Birdie Hubbard), Richard Thomas(Horace Giddens), Darren Goldstein (Oscar Hubbard),Michael McKean (Ben Hubbard), Michael Benz (Leo Hubbard),David Alford (Mr. Marshall), Francesca Capanini(Alexandra Giddens), Caroline Stefanie Clay (Addie), Charles Turner(Cal)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

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