Goodman’s “Little Foxes” Review – “Greed is Good” Circa 1900 Southern-Style

 

Long before there was a Gordon Gekko and his famed line “Greed is Good” there was Lillian Hellman.  A social critic extraordinaire, with “Little Foxes” Hellman took on the topic of corporate greed long before Occupy hit the streets.

 

The Southern family at the center of the story has a pretty good business idea that any venture capitalist would likely be drawn to.  It was to bring the cotton processing machines to the cotton, instead of shipping the cotton to the mill.   They are two brothers and a sister, the latter married to a wealthy man who is away recuperating from heart failure in a hospital up North. 

 

 

This is a powerful story with a masterful script by Hellman

 

 

The play begins when the family gains the ear of a Mr. Marshall from Chicago, whom one imagines as a Marshall Field

 

 

They are each ecstatic at their pending wealth. 

 

 

The catch and spur for the plot is that the sister’s husband doesn’t come through with the monies needed to keep the venture in the family.   Desperate, they each try different ploys to make the deal happen. 

 

 

As the story progresses, we see just how low each will go, with the lowest of all eventually getting the spoils. 

 

 

In their program notes The Goodman Theatre rightfully points out that in some ways the subject matter of “Little Foxes” is even more jarring today in the context of the politically correct sensibilities of our time.  African-American characters seem to exist only to be a frame of reference, little different from animals, on whether the white people around them are kind or cruel.  Domestic violence, which does populate screens and stages today more typically as a main topic, is just a sideshow to the main action.

 

The set by Todd Rosenthal is Southern gothic lush and plush splendor, which you get to salivate over even before the play starts. 

 

Larry Yando as Ben Hubbard, the older brother, ably carries his lines with a convincing Southern accent, which especially strikes you from the back of the theater where you can’t really see the facial expressions of the actors.  Mary Beth Fisher as Birdie Hubbard, the abused wife of the younger brother, is so convincing that you truly forget she is acting.    

 

There are some odd touches by Director Henry Wishcamper that puzzle.  One is the dramatic musical cues that signal the beginning and ending of action, similar to the music you hear in this trailor.

 

 

If anything it took away from the actors’ ability to let their lines speak for themselves.  Another touch is a recurring gesture by the sister of the family, Regina Giddens (Shannon Cochran) to slap her younger brother’s bald head (Oscar Hubbard, played by Steve Pickering), evoking the Three Stooges, if anything.  And, looking at the production photos and contrasting them to the experience of seeing the play from the back of the theater it seems as if the performance somehow wasn’t sized for the scale of the Goodman Theatre.  Tip:  If you do go, wait until you can get seats in the front of the first floor.

 

That said, this is a worthwhile production of a true classic.   For some of us, the main effect will be to get us to want to re-watch the movie with Bette Davis in the lead role. 

 

For those of us inclined toward Hellman immersion the Goodman is also hosting a reading of her play “Another Part of the Forest” on May 16.

 

“Little Foxes” runs through June 7 in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre.

 

For tickets and information call the box office at 312 443 3800 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.

 

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Photos:  Liz Lauren

 

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