By Pauline Adamek
Like Vaseline on a camera lens, or a veil softening a plain bride’s face, the diaphanous curtains of designer Gary Wissmann’s glamorous and expressionistic set barely conceal the ugly greed that festers in “The Little Foxes,” this Southern tale of squabbling siblings.
The characters of Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play, said to be thinly-disguised versions of her Demopolis, Alabama, relatives, inhabit an antique, turn-of-the-century society where men rule and women and black folk tend to their every need.
Kelly McGillis (of “Top Gun” fame) stars as Regina Hubbard Giddens, a Southern aristocrat who struggles for wealth and autonomy within the confines of an oppressive family after her father left his fortune exclusively to his sons. Consequently, her avaricious brothers Benjamin (Steve Vinovich) and Oscar (Marc Singer) are independently wealthy, while she must rely upon her estranged and sickly husband Horace (Geoff Pierson) for financial support.
The play opens with the brothers on the cusp of closing a lucrative deal with an investor interested in constructing a cotton mill in close proximity to the family’s cotton plantation. They badger their sister to convince her husband to return home and contribute a much-needed investment in the project.
When Horace returns, he refuses to invest, and so the brothers coerce Oscar’s son Leo (Shawn Lee) to steal Horace’s railroad bonds from his safe deposit box – temporarily, of course. Horace learns of the theft and conspires to cut Regina out the deal completely. But Regina has her own scheme to regain control over her grasping brothers.
McGillis does well in this conniving role originated by Tallulah Bankhead, and subsequently performed on stage by Anne Bancroft and Elizabeth Taylor, and also so memorably on screen by Bette Davis in the 1941 film version directed by the great William Wyler. Unfortunately, those great actors cast long shadows. And so the stage really belongs to Geoff Pierson as Horace, whose thundering speech damning his in-laws for their racism and greed electrifies the theatre at the close of Act One. Also enjoyable are the performances from Yvette Cason and Cleavant Derricks as the stoic and loyal family servants.
Director Dámaso Rodriguez has done a fine job of steering his cast clear of caricature, although two of the actors had a tendency to rely on repetitive ticks and mannerisms. More importantly, he has assembled a solid cast and a marvelous creative team to recreate an authentic, if slightly abstract, Southern homestead. Mary Vogt’s impeccable costume design enhances the sense of old-world elegance, especially Ms. McGillis’ entrance in a vivid emerald green silk gown.
The Pasadena Playhouse’s production of “The Little Foxes” will transport you to an almost forgotten era.
Cast: Kelly McGillis, Julia Duffy, Yvette Cason, Cleavant Derricks, Shawn Lee, Geoff Pierson, Tom Schmid, Marc Singer, Rachel Sondag, Steve Vinovich.
Director: Dámaso Rodriguez
The Pasadena Playhouse.
39 South El Molino Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91101
Showing from May 22 through June 28; Tickets range from $32.00 – $67.00.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m.: Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
[Pauline Adamek is a Hollywood-based film, theatre and food critic who files for “FilmInk Australia,” the “LA Daily News,” the “Sun Community Newspapers” as well as for various websites under the “nom du net” Max Million.]