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The Little Foxes

Little Foxes
Kelly McGillis and
Geoff Pierson

Based on previous productions, if I were to describe director Dámaso Rodriguez's work, I would use the word "fierce." At its best, his work shows realistic humans with emotional conflicts bubbling just under the surface, which ultimately and inevitably barrel toward a devastating conclusion. He helps make a play grab the audience, with a pacing that tends to telegraph that things aren't going to end well for the characters; but he goes there with such force that it often leaves you breathless.

This style seems tailor-made for a revival of The Little Foxes. After all, Lillian Hellman's play provides all the necessary raw materials—the mannered Southern family putting on a great show for its Northern guest; the problems simmering beneath; the sister who needs her estranged husband's money to invest in a business venture with her brothers; one brother's dominating hold over his wife; that woman's hatred of her son who is too much like his father; and deceit and manipulations galore. And, like many of the plays with which Rodriguez has done his best work, Hellman's script takes her characters on a downward spiral to a dizzying conclusion.

Why, then, does the production at the Pasadena Playhouse just sit there, and fail to be the least bit engrossing?

The biggest problem, surely, is Kelly McGillis's portrayal of Regina, the sister who watched her father leave all of his wealth to her brothers, leaving marriage as her only option to obtain the financial resources she so desperately desired. There's just nothing to McGillis's Regina—no superficial Southern charm (her accent varies been Southern, Northern and British), no steely resolve beneath, no woman of brilliant intelligence held in check by time and circumstance. There's simply nothing at all believable in the character she's playing—when things get difficult for Regina, McGillis turns her head and looks pained, as though following a stage direction that says "turn your head and look pained." And with no strong Regina at the center of the play, The Little Foxes falls apart.

The rest of the performers are a mixed bag. Julia Duffy's beaten-down Birdie is nothing but a stereotypical delicate Southern flower in act one, but Duffy comes alive in the second act, when too much alcohol and nothing left to lose enable Birdie to find the spine we thought she'd lost forever. Marc Singer as Birdie's abusive husband Oscar, and Shawn Lee as her son Leo give us men with more brawn than brains, but it's only that single note for both of them. Steve Vinovich is a plausible brother Benjamin—he manages the good-natured exterior well enough that we aren't quite sure just how evil he actually is. Rachel Sondag misses as Regina's daughter, Alexandra—she's not persuasive as the innocent ingenue; while everyone treats her as a beautiful, charming creature, we just don't see it. Only Geoff Pierson as Regina's husband and Yvette Cason as the housemaid seem to have full characters behind the lines they read, and a very brief scene between the two of them is much more memorable than it probably should be.

Fairly early in the play, we get of glimpse of how low the siblings can sink, when it is agreed that sweet Alexandra will be married off to brutal Leo as part of a financial transaction—and their behavior only goes downhill from there. But the biggest audience reaction comes not from the depths to which these characters will go for money, but someone's first off-hand use of the "n-word" in this 1900 deep South setting. When that's the only gasp the show earns, something is seriously wrong with the production.

The Little Foxes runs through June 28, 2009 at the Pasadena Playhouse. For tickets and information, see www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

Pasadena Playhouse -- Sheldon Epps, Artistic Director; Tom Ware, Producing Director -- presents The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman. Scenic Design Gary Wissman; Costume Design Mary Vogt; Lighting Design Dan Jenkins; Sound Design Michael Hooker; Dialect coach Joel Goldes; Press Representative Patty Onagan; Casting Michael Donovan, CSA; Production Stage Manager Lea Chazin; Assistant Stage Manager Hethyr Verhoef. Directed by Dámaso Rodriguez.

Cast:
Addie - Yvette Cason
Cal - Cleavant Derricks
Birdie Hubbard - Julia Duffy
Oscar Hubbard - Marc Singer
Leo Hubbard - Shawn Lee
Regina Giddens - Kelly McGillis
William Marshall - Tom Schmid
Benjamin Hubbard - Steve Vinovich
Alexandra Giddens - Rachel Sondag
Horace Giddens - Geoff Pierson


Photo: Craig Schwartz


- Sharon Perlmutter






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