Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September, 1998
When I was an aspiring teenage playwright, there were very few female playwrights for me to use as role models. In fact, there was only one – Lillian Hellman (1905-1984). Naturally, I was interested in who this one pioneer was and what she was like, and I discovered that I did not much care for Hellman personally. She was not who or what I wanted to be, and so I transferred those feelings to her plays as well.
At Oldcastle on Friday night I discovered the error of my teenaged ways. I still do not like Lillian Hellman the person, but Lillian Hellman the playwright is indeed a force to be reckoned with.
Oldcastle has mounted a fine production of Hellman’s 1939 drama “The Little Foxes”. The play concerns the Hubbards, the “little foxes” of the title, an unscrupulous southern family for whom money is all. “The Little Foxes” is very much a play of its time, but it is far less maudlin and more entertaining to a modern audience than most – a tribute to Hellman’s skill as a playwright.
The star turn in “The Little Foxes” is the role of Regina Hubbard Giddens, in whose home the action of the play takes place. Oldcastle’s Kathleen Turco-Lynn is even and chilling as Regina, but she does not dominate the play, which allows for other characters and stories to be seen more clearly.
What director Frank Latson has essentially done is turn a “star vehicle” into an ensemble play with a fine cast. I particularly enjoyed Taylor Bowyer’s smarmy turn as Leo, son of Regina’s brother Oscar, who is just a little too certain that being born a Hubbard entitles him to the good life no matter how he conducts himself. But there is not a weak link in this cast, even though Tracey Rooney as Regina’s seventeen year old daughter Alexandra has not seen seventeen in quite a while.
I remember a time when asking African-American actors to protray servants was highly controversial. Asking them to do so with a script that refers to them as niggers would have been unthinkable. The script would have been altered and the parts cast with whites to avoid any conflict. But how true is that to the script Hellman wrote and the time (the turn of the last century) that she was writing about? I have no doubt that a southern family of that period – sons and daughters of the men and women who fought in the Civil War – would still have spoken that way. Frankly, the Giddens and Hubbards treat their servants Addie (Marva Ray) and Cal (Herbert Mark Parker) considerably better than they treat each other, in spite of language that makes us cringe today. And Ray and Parker are delightful in the roles, with Ray creating a particularly sympathetic and human Addie.
As is usual at Oldcastle, the technical aspects of the production are top- notch. Kenneth Mooney has designed another fine set which is ably lit by Steve Hills. Jenny Fulton’s costumes are handsome, befitting the Hubbard’s wealth and social status. Hills has also provided a good sound design – essential in any play where actors must “play” the harpsichord on stage.
“The Little Foxes” runs at the Oldcastle Theatre Company through October 10 at the Bennington Center for the Arts just off of Route 9. For tickets and information call 802-447-0564.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1998