The Little Foxes -- Theater Review

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Lillian Hellman's warhorse about greed, murder and passion in the Old South proves resilient yet again to the ravages of time. Harsh and snappish and rich in savage cackles, her exquisite indictment of hated enemies who once were friends, set in a den of foul greed and iniquity, continues to resonate in contemporary society.

At the Pasadena Playhouse, director Damaso Rodriguez has softened the edges of "The Little Foxes" and given the grande dame the look and feel of a sleazy, lush soap opera, an indictment of everything living expressed in an unending, Puccini-esque moan of pain.

As a whole, the actors work together in what appears to be complete harmony. Each of the large and talented cast emotes with the intense emotions of daytime TV: They live for unreal fantasy; they die with unreal pain.

Kelly McGillis as plantation-bred matriarch Reggie Giddens leads the parade of eccentric characters, swooping elegantly back and forth seeking prey. It's like seeing Anne Bancroft with her britches down.

Julia Duffy gives the alcoholic aunt a reading that makes visible the inner goodness that's the source of her endearing clownish antics. Hellman's abuse of this character can be difficult to take; Duffy's portrayal gives her respect and love.

Geoff Pierson's performance as Horace Giddens is a treasure. Pierson has a lovely way of speaking as he totters around that makes you want to hear every word of the stern, reasoned judgments he renders on his family and heirs. His death scene is low-key but tense.

Rachel Sondag as the daughter has a uniquely positive and reality-oriented personality in addition to being conventionally wonderful, resourceful and adorable. Shawn Lee sports relentless comic energy and flair as her troll-ish suitor.

As the two brothers, Marc Singer and Steve Vinovich create larger-than-life figures of amusement that turn out to be empty capitalist souls. As the stranger from Chicago (the play is set in "a small town in the deep South"), Tom Schmid throws an ominous shadow over what's to come, making clear that evil is about.

As the domestic servants, Yvette Cason and Cleavant Derricks add elements of comic relief, but more important, hints of further pain.

The set has an appropriately miserly look to it, angry and declining, with lots of rooms and staircases. The lighting plays effectively with the shadows until the women enter in their richly colored gowns, and then they are bathed luxuriously in light. At the end, pastel balloons bob cheerily around. But it's just a mirage.

Venue: Pasadena Playhouse (through June 28)
Cast: Kelly McGillis, Julia Duffy, Yvette Carson, Cleavant Derricks, Shawn Lee, Geoff Pierson, Tom Schmid, Marc Singer, Rachel Sondag, Steve Vinovich
Playwright: Lillian Hellman
Director: Damaso Rodriguez
Scenic designer: Gary Wissman
Costume designer: Mary Vogt
Lighting designer: Dan Jenkins
Sound designer: Michael Hooker
Casting: Michael Donovan