There’s not much to like in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes.”
And much to love.
The Winding Road Theatre Ensemble is staging a riveting production of the 1939 play about a family that drips greed, manipulation and thievery. There is an astounding lack of empathy, humility and kindness among the members of the Hubbard family. You’ll squirm.
It is 1900 in a small Alabama town. The two Hubbard brothers, Oscar (Dave Davidson) and Benjamin (David Alexander Johnston) have gotten rich because they inherited their father’s cotton plantation and worked it by exploiting and mistreating their employees. Their sister, Regina (Cynthia Jeffery) was cut out from their father’s will because, well, women don’t inherit, the men do.
Ah, but Regina has married well and she is a shrewd, calculating one. She’ll get what she wants no matter what.
And what she wants is her sickly husband to become a partner with her brothers, who need the finances to build a cotton mill near their plantation. They are convinced it will make them all rich. Her husband, Horace (Eric Rau), knows the character of Oscar and Benjamin; he has no interest in partnering with them.
As unpleasant as the bulk of the characters are, this production, deftly directed by Glen Coffman, is mesmerizing.
Much of that is due to a cast that sank deeply into the characters and the story. Jeffery is brilliantly horrifying as Regina, lacing her with a calculating coolness that helped give this play a wallop.
Johnston and Davidson as the Hubbard brothers are cruel and cold and heartless. And Damian Garcia as Leo, Oscar’s doofusish son, makes it clear that the lack of ethics and the love of money has been passed on to him.
But there are also characters that give hope that empathy and honesty might have their day. Regina’s husband, Horace, has a kind heart and a strong business sense. Rau made us feel his despair at his wife’s heartlessness and his fear that their daughter, Alexandra (Morgan H. Smith) won’t be able to escape the toxicity that reigns with the Hubbards.
Oscar’s wife Birdie (Denise Blum), whom he married only to inherit her family’s cotton plantation, drowns her disappointment at her husband’s cruelty in alcohol, and who could blame her?
There were a few surprises in this production: Gianbari “Debora” Deebom, who has been onstage primarily at Pima Community College, was deeply rooted in her character, Addie, the maid who tolerates her racist and cruel employer, Regina, and cares for the teenage Alexandra with a protective tenderness.
And the women’s costumes by Maria Caprile floated across the stage and spoke to the class and the times with an eloquence.
Mike Muirhead’s set design brought us to the elegant living room of Regina’s home and included a sweeping staircase to the upper level.
This play is astoundingly disturbing. In-your-face-greed always is. And while “The Little Foxes” is 80 years old, Hellman’s play resonates loudly. Greed, hate and a shocking lack of concern for others continues to shake us up today.