“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
In its 10th year at 59E59 Theaters, the Summer Shorts Festival continues to showcase a wide variety of new, often experimental work.
The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo
Directed by Victor Slezak
This obscure title does nothing to represent a play whose meatier part is written with nimble, black humor. Burke (Dana Watkins) is a Sam Spade-like private dick. Deadpan delivery is riddled with double entendre. When newly widowed socialite Delilah Twain (Sinem Meltem Dogan- who plays all the women) asks Burke to find her younger sister, Delia, who “started sneaking into USO Clubs and went khaki wacky,” he succumbs to her well-packaged charms. “This dame was trouble but she needed me.” He falls for the broad.
Dana Watkins, James Rees, Sinem Meltem Dogan
Suddenly we’re in a college lecture on Femme Fatales and “the devouring vagina dentata” (Latin for toothed vagina), replete with slides of fine art. Burke has shed his trench coat and fedora to become tweedy Professor Marlowe aka Rob (Dana Watkins), the kind of selfish, obtuse, 40s/50s film character whose subject –film? sociology? lets everything and everyone fall to the wayside. Cue wife Sylvie who’s given up on him and the appearance of buddy, sweet put-upon Barry (James Rees who plays all the other male characters.)
Zip! It’s back to film noir. Detective Callahan has discovered the corpse of a naked woman with neither head nor fingers (i.e. I.D.) Tucked into her “snatch” was Burke’s business card. (Imagine the joke here.) Seems this dame was too well kept to be a hooker. The dick hasn’t seen his doll in days. Worried, he goes to Delilah’s home only to be met by the equally seductive Delia- her twin.
Dana Watkins, Sinem Meltem Dogan
The two stories proceed on parallel trajectories with Burke trying to unravel a series of murders lead by My Sin perfume and Rob’s life falling apart due to women’s issues. Though the professor’s plight is credible – except for a marriage counselor who might be from Duck Soup (the Marx Brothers film) – it’s given short shrift. Without better balance, the point loses impact. Though framing is familiar, playwright Richard Alfredo pens Burke’s tale with flair and shows every sign he could flesh out Rob’s. The piece is entertaining though its ending feels obscure and/or unfinished.
Dana Watkins shifts skillfully back and forth from doomed P.I. to hapless professor. The actor manifests Burke’s dry, monotone expression with finesse and embodies Rob rather like a Danny Kaye character without the physical quirks.
The mercurial James Rees ably personifies a range of roles from everyman Barry to Delilah and Delia’s orchid obsessed father, Fletcher Westlake. (The treatise on an ominous two-headed orchid is top notch writing.)
Sinem Meltem Dogan could go further with her femme fatales.
Direction by Alexander Dinelaris is adroit.
Projection Design by Daniel Muller works wonderfully to set evocative scenes for this piece.
Black Flag by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Logan Vaughn
Ruy Iskander, Suzette Azariah Gunn, Francesca Carpanini
Before Sydney (Francesca Carpanini), a white girl, and Deja (Suzette Azariah Gunn), a black girl, became freshmen roommates, they had Facebooked, warming to one another with anticipation. Sydney came from an upper middle class home in Georgia, Deja has “worked her ass off” to get there from Detroit. The girls unpack with friendly banter until Sydney pulls out a Confederate Flag which she hangs over her bed. The gift from her “mama” is, she says densely, a memento of Southern pride. Appalled, Deja decides not to make a fuss for fear of becoming an angry caricature in her new environment.
In the course of this interesting new take on insidious bigotry, we watch what happens as time passes. The inclusion of Deja’s date, Harry (Ruy Iskandar), an Asian American, allows playwright Idris Goodwin to indirectly expose more of Sydney’s ingrained attitudes. Made aware, she has a decision to make.
Like the preceding effort, this piece lacks balance. A bit more from Sydney might both enrich and help clarify. What is written is well written, however.
Of the three players, Suzette Azariah Gunn stands out for focus, gravity, and be-here-now presence. She knows her character.
Director Logan Vaughn handles temper and drunkenness as well as natural dialogue.
Queen by Alexander Dinelaris
Inspired by ‘The Woman Who Came at Six O’Clock’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Directed by Victor Slezak
Saverio Tuzzolo, Casandera M.J. Lollar
Working class Joe (Saverio Tuzzolo) runs (owns?) a small, neighborhood restaurant for which he also cooks. Every day around the same time, Queen (Casandera M.J. Lollar) comes in exhausted from a night of hooking and the sweet, deferential man makes her a meal on the house. Besotted, he’ll take any scrap of warmth or attention she deigns to bestow, expecting nothing more.
Today Queen looks particularly washed out, snapping at and teasing him like a mean cat. Last night she lost it and got herself into a serious jam. Just how much does Joe love her, she demands. How far would this otherwise scrupulously honest, tender- hearted man go to protect the object of his dreams?
The character of Joe is written better than that of Queen. Playwright Alexander Dinelaris is smart to paint him as a romantic without rose colored glasses. He’s also sufficiently adept to unexpectedly make us dislike the heroine despite her desperation. (Or perhaps that’s the way she’s played.)
Saverio Tuzzolo is splendid; sympathetic without being less than manly, realistic yet courtly. We see affection, hurt, hope, resignation and indecision. Close your eyes and hear Danny Aiello.
Casandera M.J. Lollar creates a genuine floozie. The performance is alas without needed nuance. Where are flickers of hope, anger, and fear?
The play also briefly features Chris McFarland as a cop named Mike.
Director Victor Slezak might take more time with his leading lady, especially as Tuzzolo is so good. The show is well paced and visually effective.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Dana Watkins
Throughline Artists presents
Summer Shorts? Festival of New American Short Plays
The Dark Clothes of Night by Richard Alfredo; Directed by Alexander Dinelaris
Black Flag by Idris Goodwin ; Directed by Logan Vaughn
Queen by Alexander Dinelaris;Directed by Victor Slezak
59 East 59th Street
Through September 3, 2016