The Little Foxes
Henry Wishcamper, a Goodman artistic associate with New York credits, again shows his ability to elicit performances from his actors that are as grounded and believable as they are entertaining. It would be easy for this drama of intrigues among an old line Southern family to descend into camp, but while the Hubbards have large emotions and high stakes, Wishcamper's performers always show us where their characters are coming from. As conniving as they get, we see why they believe their actions are justifiable, as they scheme to maximize their share of the profits from a cotton mill in which they hope to invest.
Wishcamper's Regina is Shannon Cochran, who plays her with a steely confidence that suggests Regina could have been the most powerful member of the family if not held back by the conventions of the era that gave inheritances to male family members. It's evident one crosses her at their own risk, though certainly her brother Benjamin is up for the fight. The formidable stage presence of Larry Yandowho's played baddies from Roy Cohn, Richard Nixon, Scrooge, and Scarmakes Benjamin a worthy adversary for Regina. The third sibling, Oscar, is projected by Steve Pickering as a brute with anger management issues who wields power more by force than cunning. His son Leo is at times mouse, other times weasel, and played by Dan Waller as rather dim, but unfortunately for him, bright enough to conceive the scheme that ultimately unravels the family.
The more vulnerable members of the clan are played with great sensitivity, starting with John Judd as Horace Giddings, Regina's husband who is physically weakened by heart disease. Nominally, the "good guy" of the bunch, Judd shows the character's dark side as welland his torment over the failings of his life that he knows is close to its end. Rae Gray, who's gained attention around Chicago playing troubled contemporary adolescents, shows a new side of her talents in a period role as the daughter Alexandra who comes to realize and be shocked by the immorality rampant in her extended family. Mary Beth Fisher is heartbreaking as Oscar's alcoholic and lonely wife, Birdie. A well-known and highly regarded Chicago actress, Ms. Fisher completely submerges herself in her character. Cherene Snow and Dexter Zollicoffer give the black servants Addie and Cal a strength and ,balanced by their understanding of where they stand in the power structurethat defies easy stereotypes and adds another layer to the machinations of the household. Michael Canavan is the Chicago industrialist William Marshall with the plan to build a cotton mill in the south. Though present only in the play's first scene, Marshall's ruthless greed is evident and helps to set the tone of the play.
The performances are played out on a grand set by Todd Rosenthal that is not only awash in period detail, but has an unusual level of three-dimensionality. His creation of the Giddens manse includes a dining room, separated by walls with large windows looking into the drawing room where most of the action is played. Wishcamper stages a brief scene inside the dining room, into which we can see through the room's large interior windows and hear faintly. It's a minor sacrifice of clarity that gives us a sense of the house's depth, and goes beyond the relative flatness of proscenium staging. Changes in times of day and a general moodiness are suggested by David Lander's lighting, and Jenny Mannis' period costumes complete the process of taking us back to this very particular time and place.
Speaking of going back in time, I'm wishing I could do that to catch one of those long-gone Broadway productions of The Little Foxes. This was my first viewing of the piece, but with such a handsomely visualized and exquisitely acted production, I'm feeling fortunate to have caught this one and to see such a first-rate production on an American classic.
The Little Foxes will play the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, through June 7, 2015. For tickets and additional information, visit www.goodmantheatre.org.