A Grand and Appealing Production of
My own relationship to this excellent melodrama goes back to the summer of 1939. My parents took me to New York for the World's Fair. One night we went to the National Theatre and there on the stage was the legendary Tallulah Bankhead playing Regina. Watching her descend the staircase of the Hubbard's living room has never left my mind. I was blown away by her performance.
I saw the revival at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre during the winter of 1967 with Anne Bancroft in the role of Regina. E. G. Marshall was a powerful Oscar, and the acting of Margaret Leighton as Birdie was memorable. I also saw the disastrous production with Elizabeth Taylor playing Elizabeth Taylor trying to play Regina in 1981. During the summer of 1997 I saw Stockard Channing putting a more human face on the villainous woman. Samuel Goldwyn produced the film in 1941 with Bette Davis looking like a witch from The Wizard of Oz.
Under Laird Williamson's free-flowing direction, Jacqueline Antaramian (New York Julius Caesar with Denzel Washington plus Berkeley Rep productions of Homebody/Kabul) attacks the part of Regina Giddens with meticulous zeal. She walks about the luxurious living area as the crucial key in this saga about a family's business scheme. Her Regina is scrumptiously amoral, and Antaramian holds her own with the actresses I have seen play the part previously. She plays the role like a restrained monster.
Julia Gibson (Angels in America plus many New York productions) as Birdie, Oscar's unloved, sweet-natured alcoholic wife, gives a beautiful, poignant performance. She almost steals the show in act three's heartwrenching moment when grim reality sinks into her mind. Robert Parson (The Black Rider, Buried Child at ACT) is first rate playing the devious, spineless bully, Oscar Hubbard. Outstanding is Jack Willis (Happy End, Cat on Hot Tin Roof, The Black Rider at ACT) playing Benjamin Hubbard. He is magnetic as the evasive, quick thinking opportunist.
John Bull (A.C.T. Master class of 2007) gives an excellent performance as the tongue-tied, self-indulgent Leo Hubbard. Nicholas Hormann (The Retreat from Moscow at South Coast Repertory) is fine as the pitiable husband of Regina. Grace Heid (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts class of 2007) gives a polished performance as Alexandra, the daughter of Regina. She is particularly fine when standing up to her mother in the last act. Stephen Klum (A Little Night Music, Sylvia) gives a first-rate performance in the first act as entrepreneur William Marshal.
Margarette Robinson (Permanent Collection, Crowns) is just right as the amiable servant and mother figure, and a sense of right and wrong that this family needs. Ronnie Washington (Bus Stop at Marin Theatre) is effective in his small role of Cal.
Robert Blackman's set is a sumptuous creation of a high-ceiling living room of the wealthy, with blood red panels lushly lit by Russell Champa. The lighting of these huge panels dims as the drama progresses. The vast stairway in the center back of the stage gives Antaramian spectacular entrances. Mr. Blackman has costumed the cast in rich outfits that the southern aristocratic family would wear at the turn of the century.
The Little Foxes plays at the American Conservatory Theatre, 405 Geary St, San Francisco through November 26th Tickets are available by calling A.C.T. Ticket Services at 415-749-2228 or online at www.act-sf.org.
The new production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol with James Carpenter playing Scrooge run December 5 through December 24th.