Thursday, April 13, 2017

Greed, Deceit, Betrayal On Broadway

In spring of 1984, I was in a high school production of The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman and 33 years later I was finally able to see it on Broadway brought to us by the always wonderful Manhattan Theatre Club. What a great production it is! Every technical element in the production is perfectly fitting of the family drama set in 1900. From the incredible set by Scott Pask to the period costumes by Jane Greenwood to the lighting by Justin Townsend that gives us three completely different days...all in light and shadows.

The show first ran on Broadway in the 30s and that entire cast (except Tallulah Bankhead in the lead role of Regina Giddens) did the film version...that role went to Bette Davis. I read that Ms. Davis changed the character of the sister fighting her brothers and husband in this story of greed and power after seeing Ms. Bankhead's incredible performance on stage. Regina had been played more as a victim trying to get her own when it first came out, yet Ms. Davis created a cold and stern woman in the role and ultimately, that's what people came to know the character to be.

Linney as Birdie & Nixon as Regina
In MTC returning director Daniel Sullivan's production, Regina isn't so much as cold as she is sly and calculating - sly like a fox. She attempts an air of kindness to achieve want she wants - at all cost. It's an interesting take except that her brother Ben mentions towards the end of the play she should try more kindness to get what she wants...hmmm....isn't she doing that with the constant 'grit behind a smile' performance that she is giving? I bring this up, as I'm not sure how Regina is always played in this production. Producers have decided to split the role. At some performances Laura Linney plays Regina while Cynthia Nixon plays her much more frail, alcoholic sister-in-law, Birdie. And then other performances, they switch each witnessing what the other does in each role every night. I saw Cynthia play Regina. She was stoic, dignified, and a woman slightly on the edge noticing she could lose it all at any moment. At first I was uncertain of this portrayal, but she absolutely won me over. Ms. Linney was incredible as Birdie. She layered Birdie's normal mousy portrayal with a wonderful array of choices. While Birdie is more of a supporting role - it's a juicy one with a monologue worthy of a Tony nomination...for sure. I love both of these actresses and was so glad to get to see them. (Now I'm wondering if I will have time to return and see them in the other roles.)

Set Designer Scott Pask's instragram photo of the set
The rest of the cast is also so wonderful - including the brothers that you just want to hate. Michael McKean as the older brother Ben Hubbard transforms into a true southerner in the role. Darren Goldstein with an over bloated ego the moment we see him unravels as Oscar. These two have some wonderful moments with sister Regina. We don't see Richard Thomas until act 2 when Regina's sick husband Horace comes home, but what a force he is on the stage. A sick man, still in charge of his destiny, but with a love in his heart - well, at least for his daughter Alexandra. Francesca Carpanini plays that role and along with Michael Benz as Leo represent the younger generation from 1900 (both making their Broadway debuts). One that wants to be like the family and one that doesn't. I love Carolina Stefanie Clay as Addie and Charles Turner as Cal. Every moment they are onstage, they ground the play in a way the family members caught up in deceit simply can't. It was also great to see David Alford on stage as Mr. Marshall as I only know him from his TV show. 

The play may be an older one, but the family drama could be playing out today. The Hubbard family represents those men that constantly need to climb the financial ladder no matter the cost. And there is Regina...fighting every step of the way to have women viewed on the same playing field as men. The world hasn't changed much in over 100 years.

This is a definite must see on the list of plays for this season even with it's three acts and 2:40 running time - the time flies by! There are many revival choices this season, but from the ones I've seen...this one is placed at the top. (Now I'm anxiously wondering how the Tony committee will view the two women when it comes to nominations for June.)

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