Kelly McGillis and Julia Duffy in vibrant The Little Foxes

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paulinepicBY PAULINE ADAMEK

In The Little Foxes, playwright Lillian Hellman masterfully constructs a tale of backstabbing family politics and greed that is as relevant today as it was when the play was first staged in 1939.

Set in Demopolis, Alabama, on a cotton plantation, this turn-of-the-century Southern aristocratic family can only be described as rapacious. The Hubbards are a family driven by the instinct to manipulate each other for their own gain. It’s astounding to learn that these characters are said to be based on Hellman’s own family.

(L-R) Kelly McGillis and Julia Duffy. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

(L-R) Kelly McGillis and Julia Duffy. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Best known for playing opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun, also for her extensive work on Broadway, Kelly McGillis stars as Regina Hubbard Giddens in the role that was first performed by Tallulah Bankhead. Regina is a woman who chafes under the oppressive and restrictive man’s world she was born into. Her father left his fortune to her brothers Oscar (Marc Singer) and Benjamin (Steve Vinovich) and her wealthy and ailing husband Horace (Geoff Pierson) has moved away from her. Regina sends her young daughter Alexandra (Rachel Sondag) to bring Horace home as she hopes to invest, along with her brothers, in a new cotton mill that promises to make them all millionaires.

Horace does come home, but refuses to go into business with Regina’s brothers. Just before intermission, Horace lets loose a booming speech that damns them all for their greed and flagrant racism. It’s an electrifying scene.

The second part of the evening is when all the conniving and scheming goes into motion. Horace is one step ahead of them all, but Regina knows only too well how to prey on his weaknesses. What she doesn’t realize is that her Pyrrhic victory will cost her dearly.

Director Dámaso Rodriguez does well with Hellman’s play, keeping it on the drama side of melodrama and never resorting to caricature or cliché. The set and costume design by Gary Wissmann and Mary Vogt, respectively, is truly magnificent.

(L-R) Julia Duffy, Marc Singer, Kelly McGillis and Steve Vinovich. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

(L-R) Julia Duffy, Marc Singer, Kelly McGillis and Steve Vinovich. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

But the First Act never really seems to gel as well as one expects. The cast all give solid performances, especially Julia Duffy as Regina’s sister-in-law, the frail and troubled Birdie Hubbard. Also Yvette Cason as Addie and Cleavant Derricks as Cal are wonderful as the family’s stoic servants who never blink an eye at the free display of everyday racism. At one point, towards the end, Addie thoughtfully tells the melancholy Birdie, “Well, there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it, like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. Sometimes I think it ain’t right to stand and watch them do it.” This indictment of the powerless Birdies and Horaces of this world, along with the grasping Hubbards, sets up Regina’s greatest loss in the end.  Funnily enough, this speech recalls the turning point in the Jodie Foster movie The Accused, which also starred Kelly McGillis.

One of the classics of American theatre, this current revival of The Little Foxes feels as contemporary and vibrant as a modern play.

The Pasadena Playhouse 39 South El Molino Avenue in Pasadena.   Through June 28 Tuesday through Fridays at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm. and 8pm. Sunday at 2pm and 7 pm. Tickets range from $32.00 – $67.00.  (626) 356-7529
www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

Pauline Adamek is a Hollywood-based film, theater, and food critic who writes for FilmInk Australia, the Los Angeles Daily News and the Sun Community Newspapers, as well as various websites under the “nom du net” Max Million. Contact her at www.paulineadamek.com

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Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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