“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”
Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon in the King James version of the Bible
Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play, ostensibly drawing characters from her own family, has been a theater staple since its first outing. In New York, the role of Regina which originated with Talullah Bankhead has been played by such as Anne Bancroft and Elizabeth Taylor while Margaret Leighton, Maureen Sullivan, and Frances Conroy have counted among those featured as Birdie. This Manhattan Theatre Club production allows its leading ladies to play Regina and Birdie in repertory. One can choose whom to see in which role.
Laura Linney, Darren Goldstein
Keeping with 1900s Southern tradition, brothers Oscar (Darren Goldstein) and Ben Hubbard (a well grounded Michael McKean) inherited their father’s cotton business to the chagrin of sister Regina (Laura Linney). The two men are pompously nouveau riche, while she has to make due with being supported in less than the style to which she aspires by manipulated husband Horace Giddens (completely credible Richard Thomas), currently in a sanatorium.
Also enmeshed is Oscar’s sweet, alcoholic wife Birdie (Cynthia Nixon), married for inheritance and ancestry, so cowed she refers to herself as a “ninny,” his lazy, doltish son Leo (Michael Benz) superfluously employed by the bank, and Regina’s overprotected daughter Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini), a daddy’s girl who the Hubbards plan to marry off to Leo.
A business opportunity to enlarge holdings and walk off with sizeable annuity emerges with the potential collaboration of northerner Mr. Marshall (David Alford – appealingly decorous). While Oscar and Ben have ready funds, Regina must secure her investment from the estranged husband she hasn’t even visited for five months. Feigning affection, this latter day Lucrezia Borgia immediately sends Alexandra to fetch the invalid. Horace, however, despite or perhaps because he’s learned his prognosis is fatal, is no longer the patsy she remembers. How will the Hubbard brothers keep this windfall in the family? How will Regina secure her own ambitious future? Each acts for him/her self.
Richard Thomas, Michael McKean, Darren Goldstein, Michael Benz
Laura Linney’s Regina makes southern gentility organic without losing the character’s edge. Imperiousness fits like a bespoke glove, avarice is palpable. So much emotion is internalized, however, one misses flashes – a moment of sheer hatred during blazing discourse with Horace, a moment of fear when at last Alexandra denies her.
Cynthia Nixon inhabits Birdie from the moment she enthusiastically flutters onstage. She’s vulnerable, wary, resigned, hopeful, hurt and desperate. Every warble in her voice and skittery move embodies Birdie. We can practically feel the tightness in her chest. All together splendid.
Francesca Carpanini, Richard Thomas
Director Daniel Sullivan excels at this kind of solid drama. His characters exist naturally and, for the most part, distinctively. Oscar is fidgety, Ben blustery and overconfident, Regina steely and graceful, Birdie like a trapped rabbit. Leo and Alexandra could use some individual attributes. Confrontations between Oscar and Birdie are superb as are moments of those between Regina and Horace. The stage is well and attractively used.
Unless I missed something, there’s an omission: Horace knocks over his medicine before heading for the stairs. We never see it observed, questioned, or cleaned up. There are paramount reasons for all three.
Scott Pask’s gracious turn of the century mansion is apt environs for this play. The ceiling is splendid. Jane Greenwood’s Costumes are flattering and character appropriate. Accents, it should be noted, sound authentic.
Also featuring Caroline Stefanie Clay as Addie and Charles Turner as Cal- the Giddins’ servants
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon
Manhattan Theatre Club presents
The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
Another reframed Shakespeare play, another 13 (I counted) helicopters disturbing performance (these can’t be rerouted?!), another frighteningly lifelike battle utilizing explosions and assault rifles?!
Troilus & Cressida appears to have been selected and certainly was staged to shock. A lengthy combat scene is viscerally difficult to sit through. At a time when war, increased local violence, lack of gun control and terrorism are ubiquitous in the news, it strikes me that subjecting us to something so theatrically realistic and compelling, achieves the complete opposite. Is this something to which we want to become inured?!
Troilus- Andrew Burnap, Pandarus- John Glover, Cressida- Ismenia Mendes
This is also a piece rife with testosterone-filled exposition; long episodes of men comparing muscles (a euphemism), swearing, and daring. A particularly odd choice. Having said that, acting and staging are skillful and energetic.
The latter part of the Trojan War: After playing footsie awhile, with the matchmaking help of her uncle Pandarus (John Glover), spunky Cressida (Ismenia Mendas) and earnest, boyish Troilus (Andrew Burnap) admit to and consummate their love. Shortly thereafter, she’s the object of prisoner exchange ending up in a Greek camp hotly pursued by Diomedes (Zach Appleman) to whom she turns, either attracted or in survival mode.
Because of a promise to his lady?! the great Greek soldier Achilles (seamless last minute replacement Louis Cancelmi) refuses to fight, choosing instead to remain in his tent with his lover Patroclus (Tom Pecinka), listening to heavy metal music. Powers-that-be trick him into one-on-one combat with Troilus’s brother Hector (Bill Heck) by first sending in the played-as-stupid-and-obtuse Ajax (Alex Breaux) who loses without shedding blood.
It’s not clear what the fight will accomplish, but at the Greek camp, Trojans and their hosts remain in peaceful truce. Troilus is led to spy on Cressida by trouble-making Ulysses (Corey Stoll), a civilian advisor who times it so that the Trojan will observe his girl with Diomedes. She’s accused of perfidy by her boyfriend and storms off.
In this version, Achilles then challenges Hector for a national rematch out of pride, though synopses found online indicate he does so to revenge Patroclus’ death which is attributed to Hector. Wounded, he also loses. Grisly war resumes. At the end of the piece, like Caesar at the Forum, Hector is surrounded by Achilles men and ignominiously knifed to death. Troilus mourns him kneeling in a pool of his brother’s blood. We never find out what happens to Cressida.
Ulysses-Corey Stoll and Ajax- Alex Beaux
Andrew Burnap and Ismenia Mendas, the show’s peripheral lovers, are natural actors with appealing chemistry, especially when in denial. Manly Bill Heck (a perfect movie Superhero) imbues Hector with dignity as well as confidence. Alex Breaux’s dumb Ajax is played with absolute credibility. Ulysses (Corey Stoll) is appropriately slimy. Stuck in caricatures, David Harbour (Achilles) and Tom Pecinka (Patroclus) ably carry out the director’s vision. Any play with the splendid John Glover is, to me, worth attending. Here the actor is warm, elegant, and occasionally playful as Pandarus – completely at home with Shakespeare.
Director Daniel Sullivan uses the mostly empty stage evocatively. His solders, with few exceptions, are cliché coarse and/or officious displaying no individuality. (Much of this may be the writing.) I don’t understand the compulsion to insert the currently requisite man in ridiculous drag and several flamboyant gay soldiers. As depicted, war is skin curdling.
Troilus-Andrew Burnap and Hector-Bill Heck
The play is performed in modern dress (David Zinn) which barely registers a blip (so acclimated are theater-going audiences) until soldiers take the stage in recognizable fighting gear.
Mark Menard’s Sound Design is aptly unnerving.
Sound like fun? The curious should be prepared.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Diomedes- Zach Appelman and Aeneas- Sanjit De Silva (center) and the Company
The Public Theater’s FREE! Shakespeare in the Park presents
Troilus & Cressida by William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
The Delacorte Theater- Enter at 81st Street and Central Park West
Through August 14, 2016
In person at The Delacorte
Downtown at Astor Place
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