Sometimes, family can bring out the worst in us—especially if your relatives would do anything to get to the top. Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, currently playing at the Antaeus Theatre Company’s Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, follows the Hubbards, a deceitful, conniving family in 1900s Alabama who will not be satisfied until they have more money than they can count. This impressive production, which happens to be the first of the play in Los Angeles in fifteen years, draws obvious parallels to the state of the world today, and even offers surprising moments of female empowerment in the final act.
The action centers around three siblings—Oscar (Rob Nagle), Ben (Mike McShane), and Regina (Deborah Puette), who are this close to closing a deal with Mr. Marshall (Timothy Adam Venable), an investor from Chicago, to open a cotton mill on their property. This new business promises to make all of them rich beyond their wildest dreams, but first they need Regina’s husband, Horace (John DeMita), who has been at a hospital in Baltimore for the last five months suffering from heart problems, to contribute his $75,000 share. Horace has been uncommunicative as of late and has expressed no actual interest in this new venture, but Regina will stop at nothing to get him involved, as her own future dreams of building a new life for herself in a big city ride on it.
The atmosphere in the Hubbard home can only be described as toxic, particularly for those who married into the family. Birdie (Jocelyn Towne), Oscar’s wife, is a kind and gentle woman who is constantly belittled and gaslit by her abusive husband. Their son, Leo (Calvin Picou) unfortunately inherited his father’s winning personality, and even his own mother cannot stand his dim-witted, smarmy ways. None of this matters to Oscar and Regina, who are playing a long game they hope will result in Leo marrying Regina and Horace’s daughter, Alexandra (Kristin Couture), even though they are first cousins, to help strengthen the family legacy and bank account. Observing the action often with dismay are Addie (Judy Louise Johnson) and Cal (William L. Warren), the family’s longtime staff.
Directed by Cameron Watson and presented in three acts, this production is smart and taut, the drama unfolding with great style. In one of the best uses of Antaeus’s new space to date, John Iacovelli’s set evokes an upscale, turn of the century vibe, with large doors on one side smartly allowing the audience to peer in to the dining room where the family often convenes, offering a big picture view of life in their home. The costumes (Terri A. Lewis) are rich and elaborate, and the sound design (Jeff Gardner) gets a chance to shine in act three, when key events happen upstairs, just beyond what can be seen. It is all around one of Antaeus’s finest recent efforts, strengthened by an ensemble full of terrific performances.
Towne is heartbreaking as Birdie, who is in many ways the most tragic character of the piece. She longs for just one full day of happiness, something that has evaded her since her marriage began. Nagle and McShane are delightfully conniving as the wicked brothers, and the apple does not fall far from the tree with Picou, whose Leo is hilariously slow on the uptake—if he does not catch up and learn how to be better at deception soon, he will not last long in this family. And Puette is sensational as Regina, whom you can never quite decide whether to love or hate. The twinkle in her eyes as she describes her fantasy of living in Chicago as well as the way she has been swept aside in favor of her brothers her entire life makes her sympathetic at times, but she also possesses an undeniable coldness that can quickly lead to unimaginable cruelty, perhaps beyond even what her siblings are capable of.
“There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it, like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. Sometimes I think it ain’t right to stand and watch them do it,” Addie says, sadly, referencing how she feels having watched the Hubbards’ thieving and trickery over all these years. As the story unfolds and Horace’s participation in the deal remains unconfirmed, Oscar, Ben, and Regina stoop to increasingly shocking lows to ensure their imminent fortune remains secure, never pausing to consider who might get hurt in the process, even when the victims are their own flesh and blood.
In act one, The Little Foxes seems to be going the way many plays of this era do in terms of its portrayal of women. Birdie is humiliated by her husband at every turn, Regina’s destiny seems entirely at the mercy of her husband and his money, and even Alexandra is set to be married off like an object, a pawn in a game of wealth. Ben regularly reminds the women that they look better smiling than frowning, an infuriating adage. But, refreshingly, the show agrees it is infuriating, and eventually, the tables turn in terms of which gender holds the power. Regina proves she is never to be underestimated, and even Alexandra, who starts the play as rather naïve, grows a spine, a newfound fire in her eyes offering hope for the future. The Little Foxes illuminates the greed and discontent at the center of many financially successful families, at once a cautionary tale and also an empowering one of how women can forge their own path in a male-dominated world—although preferably by using methods less sadistic than Regina’s.
The Little Foxes runs at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center through December 10th. Performances are Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. The running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including two intermissions. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased here.