The Little Foxes

also see Ann's review of Blackbird

Standing: John Shepard, Chris Landis, and Ross Bickell; seated: Helena Ruoti
Lillian Hellman was said to have based the characters in her 1939 play The Little Foxes on her Alabama family. One can see the corners of the family photographs curl; it's not a flattering portrait.

Set at the turn of of the 20th century, the play focuses on some pivotal events for a wealthy southern family. Regina Hubbard Giddens (Helena Ruoti), a strong and ambitious woman driven to marry into money since her brothers received all financial favor from their father. Those brothers, Oscar and Benjamin (John Shepard and Ross Bickell), join their sister in taking advantage or others to increase their wealth—including Oscar's attempt to arrange a marriage between his son Leo (Chris Landis) and Regina's daughter Alexandra (Lara Hillier) in order to get the money Regina married into! While that plan is cooking, the brothers need a mere $75,000 of Regina's husband Horace's (Michael McKenzie) money to seal a deal with yankee entrepreneur William Marshall (Philip Winters) to open a cotton mill. Horace has been out of town recuperating from a serious illness, and Regina is anxious to get the money from him—the dollar signs in her eyes equal those in the eyes of her brothers. Alexandra is dispatched to bring her father home, though the young woman isn't aware of the reasons for doing so. Upon his return, Horace quickly becomes wise to the intentions of Regina and her brothers, and, though physically weak, he stands strong against his wife. But the brothers and young Leo concoct a way to "borrow" Horace's money without his knowledge, with plans to cut Regina for a larger share for themselves.

Aside from the servants, the three "angels" (the only ones in the family with any ethics or morals) are Horace, Alexandra and Birdie Hubbard (Deirdre Madigan), Oscar's mistreated wife, whom he married for her family's plantation. The fates of all are fairly settled by play's end.

Hellman provides a juicy story with rich dialogue—lots of meat for the cast to dig into. And this cast does a decent job with it, though director Ted Pappas seems to have kept the lid on them a little. Though we want the schemers to drip with proper Southern charm while picking the pockets, it wouldn't hurt to see the ruthlessness bubble to the surface a bit more. The final scene in particular is disappointingly weak.

The core of dependable actors—Ruoti, Shepard, Ross Bickell and McKenzie—give dependable performances. Madigan, however, is superb. She makes Birdie the one character we want to know more about, and we truly root for her, even though her plight seems to be pre-ordained. In the small roles of house staff members Addie and Cal, Linda Haston and Wali Jamal enrich the production, bringing the most from the characters as possible. As young, sheltered Alexandra, Lara Hillier is appropriately innocent and proper until the time when she needs to show a little fire, which she does.

James Noone's set of the Giddens house is authentic and ready to move into, well matched by David R. Zyla's costumes which are period perfect and well done. We sometimes take Kirk Bookman's lighting for granted, but that's because it's so effective; his work here is excellent as always.

The Little Foxes at the O'Reilly Theatre through December 13, 2009. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit

Photo: Pittsburgh Public Theater

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-- Ann Miner

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