“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
There’s a Fellini-esque beginning to Tom Ford’s new film, Nocturnal Animals. As the opening credits roll, plus-sized women, nearly naked, dance, grimace, and perform, mimicking beauty contest winners and majorettes. When the camera pulls back, we’re in a gallery owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who sits on the sidelines looking unimpressed and bored by her latest art installation. (The women are now lying facedown on platforms.)
The new exhibition is declared a success, but Susan is not in a celebratory mood. Her husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer), didn’t show up for her opening, the couple’s relationship as cold as their steel and glass home. Susan suggests they try to reconnect by spending a weekend at the beach, but Hutton announces he must fly to New York to rescue a deal. Despite their opulent surroundings, they’re going broke. And, he’s having an affair.
Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal
Susan’s ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer, has sent her his novel, which he dedicated to her and titled Nocturnal Animals, a nod to her inability to sleep. Since she hasn’t spoken to him in 19 years, she’s both pleased and perplexed by his gesture. When she begins reading the book, however, the violent story that unfolds in the pages is unsettling and pushes her to revisit their relationship and how it ended.
Susan and Edward grew up together in West Texas and reconnect after they bump into each other in New York. Over lunch at a posh restaurant, Susan’s mother, Anne (a delicious Real Housewife turn by Laura Linney), discourages her from marrying Edward, a “weak” man who will never make enough money. Susan balks at her mother’s assessment but comes to the harsh realization that she’s more like her mother than she wants to admit. An artist, Susan shunned the struggling lifestyle of a creative for the lucrative business side of running a gallery. When Edward won’t give up trying to become a novelist, she leaves him. But marriage to Hutton proves to be even less satisfying.
The novel’s protagonist, Tony (played by Gyllenhaal), is driving to West Texas with his wife, Laura (Isla Fisher), and daughter, India (Ellie Bamber). They are chased by some local ya-hoos and forced off the road. This is Deliverance on a lonely highway and Ford draws out the scene until it’s almost unbearable. Laura and India lash out against the men, while Tony tries to reason with them, a strategy that is ineffective and merely makes him look, yes, weak. Two of the men drive off with Tony’s family and he’s dumped in a deserted area. He finally finds his way to civilization and reports his missing wife and daughter. The local cop, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), who takes on the case, bonds with Tony and the two work for two years to bring the men to justice.
Tom Ford’s first film, 2009’s A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a gay man in the 1960s who was unable to openly mourn his lover, received very positive reviews. Nocturnal Animals proves he’s no one shot wonder. He’s both a talented writer and director. And, of course, his fashion genius is evident in the film’s styling, from the outfits worn not only by Adams, but by one of the gallery workers played by Jena Malone, to sets, including the gallery and the Hutton home. Even the table decor, in several of the scenes, is eye-catching.
Adams’ character is multi-facted and the actress brilliantly transforms herself, depending upon where Susan is in her life story. Small touches make a difference. With bright red lipstick, her hair sleek and worn to the side, she’s the ice queen, tamping down her emotions. The younger Susan who fell in love with Edward, wears no makeup and is open and vulnerable. It’s telling that when she agrees to meet her ex-husband, she wipes off her red lipstick, ready to bring back the old Susan before she became too much like her mother.
Gyllenhaal delivers one of the best performances of his career. As Edward, he nails the sensitive, sincere small town boy who marries his first crush and can’t believe his good fortune. But when things go south, his efforts to make her stay come off as desperate. When we finally learn at the end of the film how Susan delivered the final blow that ended their marriage, we understand that perhaps the novel was not so much dedicated to her as aimed at her.
Nocturnal Animals opens nationwide November 18, 2016.
Photo Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features