Do Not Stand Idly By When Observing The Greed Of Those Close To You…

Last night, we went out to Pasadena to see the Pasadena Playhouse production of “The Little Foxes”. By we I refer to myself and nsshere, gf_guruilla having been felled by a headache a few hours earlier. It was a delightful father-daughter evening: my daughter is quite the remarkable young woman.

The Little Foxes” was written by Lillian Hellman back in 1939. It is part of the Pasadena Playhouse’s season subtitled “Women: The Heart and Soul of the Theatre”. It takes places on an Alabama plantation around 1900. Wikipedia synopsizes the play as follows: The focus is on Southern aristocrat Regina Hubbard Giddens, who struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th century society where a father considered only sons as legal heirs. As a result, her avaricious brothers Benjamin and Oscar are independently wealthy, while she must rely upon her sickly husband Horace for financial support. Having married his much-maligned, alcoholic wife Birdie solely to acquire her family’s plantation and its cotton fields, Oscar now wants to join forces with Benjamin to construct a cotton mill. They approach their sister with their need for an additional $75,000 to invest in the project. Oscar initially proposes a marriage between his son Leo and Regina’s daughter Alexandra – first cousins – as a means of getting Horace’s money, but Horace and Alexandra are repulsed by the suggestion. When Regina asks Horace outright for the money, he refuses, so Leo is pressured into stealing Horace’s railroad bonds from the family business. In order to acquire a larger share in the mill from her brothers, Regina threatens to report the theft to the police. In retaliation, Horace says he will claim he gave Leo the bonds as a loan, thereby cutting Regina out of the deal completely. When he suffers a heart attack, she makes no effort to give him his medicine, and he dies, having tried to climb the stairs for the help of Regina’s maid, without anyone knowing his plan. Regina makes use of this in blackmailing her brothers. The price she ultimately pays for her evil is the loss of Alexandra’s love and respect. What is more, Benjamin suggests that he could, in turn, blackmail Regina, commenting it that he found it odd that her husband had died on the stairs.

One of the central focuses of the play is greed, and this is emphasized by the imagery in the Playhouse product, from the money-themed production logo, to the intense green of Regina’s dress. There is also an imagery of decay, both in the set (set in a southern mansion that had seen better days, and which was opened to the back to expose the decaying brick and foundations), as well as in the behavior of the principles, especially that of Birdie Hubbard, once a fine southern lady degenerated into alcoholism and escape. But the emphasis of the play, and one that remains timely today, is in the notion that just as it is wrong to be greedy and exploit others, it is equally wrong to silently let others do it as well. In this case, it is the greed of the Hubbard siblings: Ben, Oscar, and Regina. It is seen in their desire for money, their desire for things, and their desire to exploit others. It is made clear this is why Oscar married Birdie: not out of love, but to acquire her cotton plantation. It is why Regina married Horace: not out of love, but of wanting the things that come from a successful husband. It is seen in the unethical behavior of Oscar in exploiting workers, in Leo in stealing the bonds, and Ben in wanting to exploit his sister. But the positive characters in the play do not have that greed. Horace, Regina’s husband, wants to be away from it all and ethically run his bank. Birdie, when asked what she wanted had she money, dreamed of restoration of the southern aristocratic lifestyle and her plantation of the old days. Alexandra, Regina and Horace’s daughter, just wanted her father. The notion of not-standing-by is emphasized in the end of the story, where Regina kills Horace by standing and doing nothing in his time of need… out of her greed, for had he lived, he would have revised his will. She successfully exploits her greed to extort her brother, but her daughter cannot stand by and profit from it, and indicates she will leave the greed behind.

Under the direction of Damaso Rodriguez, this was a powerfully staged and acted play. In the lead, as Regina Hubbard Giddens, was Kelly McGillis, who developed a wonderful personification of a strong, greedy woman. As portrayed by McGillis, the greed is so strong it comes out angry and forceful: this is a woman you don’t cross lightly. Her husband, Horace Giddens (Geoff Pierson) is unseen in the first act, being away for his health in Baltimore. In the second act we meet him: a much calmer but strong character who stands up against his wife… and for what he believes is right for those whom he cares about: his 17yo daughter Alexandra (Rachel Sondag) and his long-time black housekeeper, Addie (Yvette Cason). Pierson’s portrayal of Giddens is as an affable, but dying man; you feel sorry he wasn’t in better health. The second member of the Hubbard trio is Oscar Hubbard (Marc Singer), an angry exploitive man (who I think was a bit overplayed by Singer), eager to take whatever he can get. He takes from his wife, Birdie (Julia Duffy), driving her to drink (as demonstrated in an excellent scene in the second act). He passes on his greed to his son, Leo (Shawn Lee), encourages him to steal, and engineers to have his son marry his first cousin Alexandra, in order to keep any money in the family. The last Hubbard family member is Benjamin Hubbard (Steve Vinovich), a seemingly affible man who engineered the entire scheme, but who exerts firm control on everything (or tries to). Never married, he exhudes the confidence that all will be his, or in his family, at the end. Rounding out the cast where Cleavant Derricks as Cal, Regina and Horace Giddens driver/butler, and William Marshall (Tom Schmid), the man going in with the Hubbards to build a cotton mill on the plantation. This was just a very powerful and talented acting ensemble, although (as I noted above) I though Singer’s character was a little overplayed.
[All actors are members of æ Actors Equity ]

Technically, the Playhouse did their usual excellent production. The stage (designed by Gary Wissmann) consisted of the drawing room and dining room of a southern mansion, with the decay of its foundations visible (serving as a metaphor for the larger story). The costumes by Mary Vogt (who, I should note, did the Pushing Daisies pie-lette) also reflected the characters: Regina’s emerald green dress reflected her greed and jelousy; Birdie’s dress had seen better days; and the businessmen (Benjamin, Oscar, and Leo) were all business in matching suits). The sound design by Michael Hooker) was notable not for any amplification problems but for the way, in the second act, it amplified the drama through well-timed thunder. The lighting design by Dan Jenkins establishes the warmth or coolness of the acts: the first act is warm and sunny, in light yellow and white; the second act is cold and foreboding, in shades of purple. The actor’s southern dialects were coached by Joel Goldes, and the excellent casting was by Michael Donovan. The production was stage-managed by long-time Playhouse stage manager Lea Chazin (her 44th show!), assisted by Hethyr Verhoef.

“The Little Foxes” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse through June 28, 2009. Tickets are available from the Pasadena Playhouse. Discount tickets are available through Goldstar Events and LA Stage Tix.

Upcoming Theatre: Later this afternoon we are seeing the new musical “Insanity” at the North Hollywood Arts Center. The following two weekends are currently unscheduled, although I am exploring the Mini-Musical Festival at the Secret Rose Theatre. Sunday, July 12 @ 1pm brings “Spamalot” at the Ahmanson. Saturday July 18 @ 8pm is “Fat Pig” at Repertory East Playhouse. July 25/26 is currently open, although I’m considering “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Neighborhood Playhouse, in its last weekend. August 1st brings “Cats” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (our last Saturday matinee before our tickets move to Saturday evening). Lastly, August 8 brings us back to the Pasadena Playhouse for the musical “Crowns”. Tuesday gf_guruilla plans to go to the Bowl to ticket the the “Guys and Dolls” concert at the Hollywood Bowl (7/31-8/2/09) and Liza Minelli at the Hollywood Bowl (8/28-8/29/09). Lastly, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.