Far too often, a woman’s role in a play is either that of villainess or victim. The new revival of Lillian Hellman’s ‘The Little Foxes’ features two meaty women’s roles, one of each. Two of Broadway’s most talented actresses, Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon, alternate the role of manipulative cold Regina Giddens, and her sister-in-law, meek and submissive Birdie Hubbard.
Despite three Acts and two intermissions, The Little Foxes manages to be riveting. Set in the South at the turn of the century, the Hubbards brothers Ben (Michael McKean), Oscar (Darren Goldstein) and sister Regina (Linney,) have entered into an arrangement with a businessman from the North to build a factory. They anticipate making millions and Regina is envisioning all that she will buy. However, she needs to put up her share of the money, and Horace, Regina’s ailing husband (an excellent Richard Thomas), has been away for five months in a hospital and hasn’t responded to any of Regina’s letters about the transaction.
As the plot unfurls, Regina will do anything to get the share of the money and it’s her maneuverings that reveal her to be not only a tough, unyielding woman but also a coldhearted schemer.
Linney is calculating and ruthless and she does it all with a change in tone and posture. She is like a snake, ready to uncoil at any moment. She can go from flirtatious to demanding in a flash. She is masterful and downright scary. In contrast, Nixon as Birdie is tremulous and nervous. Even her voice quivers. She can be cowed and shrinks with a look from her husband or sister-in-law. As Regina, Linney wears black or bright colors while Nixon is clad in pale pastels to match her personality.
Under the capable direction of Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes is a play worth seeing with much to discuss, especially about the treatment and attitude toward women.
The supporting cast, particularly the family members, is commanding, but the play is really about the two women. As you watch, you wonder how the play might be different with the roles reversed.
Is it worth the price of another ticket? Who knows, but it is intriguing.
Will this ‘gimmick’ of the actresses switching roles entice people into seeing the play more than once? I doubt it but it certainly will give them something to discuss.