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Pictured: Scott Phelps, Saren Nofs Snyder, and Thom Thomas. Photos courtesy of the North Shore Camera Club.
By Marie Warner
Citadel Theatre Company’s production of THE LITTLE FOXES takes on a prolific piece of American theater with a storied history.
Lillian Hellman’s 1939 work tells the story of the Hubbard siblings, Ben, Oscar, and Regina, as they endeavor to expand their business empire in 1900’s Alabama. When Regina’s sickly husband, Horace, refuses to put up the money for her share in the new business, it sets in motion a series of events that tear the family apart.
Regina Hubbard Giddens is one of the great roles for women, and the actors who have played her read like a “Who’s Who” of American theater. She’s conniving, forceful, charming, and unforgiving. Saren Nofs Snyder brings such a strong presence and explores all of Regina’s complexities beautifully. Scott Phelps and Thomas J. Thomas play Oscar and Ben with bombastic flair, and Snyder gives as good as she gets. There is excellent chemistry between the three siblings and you can easily imagine what Regina’s life must have been like with them in the years prior.
Tim Walsh is extremely sympathetic as the much put-upon Horace. Walsh portrays Horace’s illness with admirable consistency and physicality even in his epic clashes with Regina. Alicia Kahn as Oscar’s wife, Birdie, brings a beautiful softness and vulnerability to her role, standing in sharp contrast to the Hubbard siblings. There’s a lovely scene between Horace and Birdie reminiscing about music and days gone by where you see what these two people could have been if they hadn’t been drawn into this harsh, back-stabbing family.
Anna Civik as Alexandra, the daughter of Regina and Horace, is meant to be the culmination of both their hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, Civik is often overshadowed by the rest of this experienced cast and has a hard time matching up against the force of Snyder’s Regina.
THE LITTLE FOXES addresses racism obliquely when condemning the Hubbard family’s usury of former slaves in their town, and the injustice that Horace cannot include servant Addie in his will. However, Birdie’s obsession with returning to the “glory” of plantation life does not take into account the lives of the African Americans around her. THE LITTLE FOXES is not meant to be about race, yet race can’t be avoided. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t give Terri Lynne Hudson as Addie and William Anthony Rose as Cal much to do in their servant roles, while cementing the casting unnecessarily along racial lines. Citadel attempts to sidestep this by casting Eliott Johnson in an effective turn as businessman William Marshall.
Eric Luchen’s scenic design is fairly straightforward, but the use of the interior dining room is dynamic and interesting, giving the actors something different to do.
THE LITTLE FOXES is a fascinating piece of American Theater. It’s both a character study of a southern family (some say inspired by Hellman’s own) and a commentary on the financial freedom women are so often denied. Regina is manipulative and unforgiving, and perhaps she would have been that way no matter what. Perhaps that is just in her Hubbard genes. But she was also denied an inheritance by her father and forced to use a loveless marriage as a survival tool. Birdie represents the other side of the coin. Her beloved family plantation was falling on hard times, and Ben Hubbard wanted the land for cotton. So “Oscar Hubbard married it”. Both of these women are trapped by their circumstances and while Regina claws her way out, Birdie drinks quietly in her room. Alexandra alone breaks free by ultimately rejecting her own family.
While the play can tend toward melodrama, Citadel Theatre’s production largely avoids that and does an admirable job creating a multi-faceted, emotionally honest piece of theater.
THE LITTLE FOXES runs through October 28th. For more information visit citadeltheatre.org.