Review: The Little Foxes at Palm Beach Dramaworks

Photo by Alicia Donelan for Palm Beach Dramworks, 2017.

The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman is a work of theater with a long and sumptuous history. The 1939 play whose title comes from Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon (“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.) originally starred Tallulah Bankhead in the first production staged in New York.

It was made into a 1941 film starring Bette Davis. In 1949 the play was also adapted into an opera titled “Regina” by Mark Blitztein. There was also a television mini-series in the 1950s and numerous re-stagings hence.

Set in 1900, the story propels around an examination of greed within a family of the deep south. With the backdrop of the American industrial revolution coming on strong after the Civil War, the story of a family with many too-close for comfort relationships and old world values tempted by timeless vices, The Little Foxes may be viewed as a critique of the largesse of American dynastic families, be they the Mellons, the Rockefellers or a certain contemporary family based in New York that now lives in Washington D.C.

The 2017 revival staged at Palm Beach Dramaworks premiered on 20 October 2017 and is the first work in the new season of the venerated playhouse. I was fortunate to attend the opening night gala, a spectacle resplendent with long dresses, champagne, and a very full house of excited theater-goers.

Photo by Alicia Donelan for Palm Beach Dramaworks, 2017.

The play did not disappoint.

Beginning with an especially angst-ridden and bewitching performance by Kathy McCafferty as Regina Giddens, the story’s centerpiece who is paired with the moral conscience of Birdie Hubbard, played with grace and delicate poignancy by Denise Cormier; and concluding with a wistful scene haunting in its implications for current day America, The Little Foxes was an all-encompassing success.

With gently-crafted dramatic performances by James Andreassi as Oscar Hubbard, Dennis Creaghan as Benjamin Hubbard, Rob Donohoe as Horace Giddens, Taylor Anthony Miller as Leo Hubard, Avery Somers as Addie and Patric Robinson as Cal, the three-act story exhibited an accelerating exhibition of the evolution of greed and its ability to propel those caught under its spell into catacombs of moral depravity.

The completeness of the casting (never once did I imagine another actor or actress for a given role) was complemented lovingly by the exquisite grace of the costumes and the magnanimous craftsmanship of the set.

Photo by Alicia Donelan for Palm Beach Dramaworks, 2017.

Ms. McCafferty played Kathy with elan and an almost-unwatchable degree of cloying self-interest and Machiavellian machinations. Her pairing with Ms. Cormier’s Birdie constituted the play’s moral polar equation, with Birdie True North and Kathy Antarctica. One might say Mr. Donohe’s Horace served as the expedition leader while Cohn’s Alexandra was Magnetic North: perpetually offering a sheen of youthful innocence mixed with the brashness of a child wanting to grow up too fast.

The ornate set included many seemingly hand-crafted architectural flourishes from finely-hewn wood moldings to strategic double-doors and stairways. The inter-dynamic flow of movement within the performance, actors coming and going stages left and right, through doors and above steps, complete with elements of amplified dialogue where the characters are hidden behind closed doors, served as an excellent illusionistic psychological experience, where audience members were basically in the same room, as silent characters within the story.

The intimacy and precision of the Palm Beach Dramaworks made for an ideal theater for this revival. I expect tickets will go quickly and the play will be a smash.

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