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The Little Foxes Review by

There are people who eat the the earth and eat all the people on it... Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it— Addie

Jack Willis as Ben and Jacqueline Antaramian as Regina in The Little Foxes
Jack Willis as Ben and Jacqueline Antaramian as Regina in The Little Foxes
(Photo: Kevin Berne)
American Conservatory Theatre's production of Lillian Hellman's insightful play about greed, frustrated ambitions, and repressed rage in a dysfunctional Southern family is an effective, entertaining and well-crafted potboiler, bordering on melodrama but nuanced and specific enough to avoid that trap. Although the play was written in 1939, its indictment on the excesses of capitalism and the wealthy few has great resonance in 2006.

Hellman, a powerful political voice in the 30's and 40's, was dogged in her stance against abuse at high levels and was herself a victim of blacklisting for her Communist ties during the McCarthy era. In The Little Foxes she writes from the personal but moves seamlessly into the public and political, making such a shift seem natural and inevitable. By the end of the play we are well aware of the societal destruction wreaked upon the many by the few who would hold power over the rest.

Robert Blackman's set makes a strong visual statement in this production. In fact, on opening night the audience applauded enthusiastically when the opulent and over-sized set was first introduced, a character in its own right. That set serves the members of the Hubbard family well for the meeting ground upon which they plot and scheme to gain advantage over one another. Initially, the Southern charm of the Hubbards seems quaint and distant to a contemporary audience but slowly, the script reveals to the audience how charm is simply a veneer which masks deeply flawed, sometimes criminal and always complex human beings.

The female antagonist's primal wound is that she was left out of her father's will, simply because custom in the South during the early 1900's dictated that a woman could not inherit a family's fortune. As interpreted by Jacqueline Antaramian, the infamous Regina Giddens, is witty, intelligent, driven, beautiful and vicious. In effect, she wants what she wants and anything that stands in her way, a daughter, an ailing husband, a dominating brother will be dealt with by whatever means necessary. Today such a woman would be considered a leader, someone to be reckoned with. However, in 1900, the people in her immediate circle saw her as a selfish, conniving and ruthless woman. It begs the question whether such behaviour can be deemed appropriate or necessary, either then or now? Given the current administration, issues of justice, ethical behaviour and misuse of power work their way into audience psyches fairly easily. How much money, for example, has Vice President Cheney made from his association with Halliburton for the war in Iraq? One can not help wondering what kind of play Hellman would write if she had lived through the last decade.

The contrast to Regina and the rest of the clan is embodied in the characters, Horace Giddens (Nicholas Hormann) and Alexandra Giddens, (Grace Heid), her husband and daughter, and her sister-in-law Birdie Hubbard (Julia Gibson). Seemingly gentle souls, reminiscent of Melanie and Ashley in Gone With The Wind, even they have a darker side.

Horace, although now ailing from a poor heart, makes reference to a past with "fancy women" and before his demise we catch glimpses of the somewhat ruthless aspects of his own nature as well. Alexandra, the grieving daughter, asks her mother a chilling questior after her father's death and we begin to see in her the same vengeful streak that flourishes in her mother.

Even the sad and alcoholic Birdie describes her desire to be loved and her marriage to a man beneath her simply because she does not want to face the future alone. Sad and flawed family members all.

It has been well documented Hellman based these characters on her own family. She does not indict them as much as she serves them up to her audience as cautionary examples of what can happen when we cannibalize our own. And so we turn back again to the political creature that Hellman truly was to the very core of her being. Alexandra makes a plea for hope and empowerment when she states eloquently that she will not sit around doing nothing but will find a way to act, to make a difference.

When Regina makes her long and final walk up the stairs to an empty bedroom, the audience is stunned. Hellman makes it clear to us that the price of greed, corruption and lawlessness is a dark hole so deep that nothing and no one can fill it. We can only hope that somewhere down the line in our own country, the perpetrators of criminal acts will be forced to face that same walk into the abyss. I would like to think that Hellman is watching from above and cheering for good to prevail.
The Little Foxes
Playwright: Lillian Hellman
Director: Laird Williamson
Cast: (in order of appearance) Margarette Robinson, Rhonnie Washington, Julia Gibson, Robert Parsons, John Bull, Jacqeline Antaramian, Stephen Klum, Jack Willis, Grace Heid, Nicholas Hormann
Scenery and Costumes: Robert Blackman
Lighting: Russell Champa
Sound: Steve Schoenbeck
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes with two intermissions
American Conservatory Theatre, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco 415-749-2228,www.act-sf-org
Running through November 26, 2006
Reviewed by Joanna Perry-Folino
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