“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
Taking as its focus one of its more engaging masterpieces, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has organized a thematic exhibition that offers a unique historical context for appreciating the tradition and allure of the enchanting Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque) (1887-88) by the French Post-Impressionist Georges Seurat (1859-91).
Georges Seurat, Pierrot and Colombine, ca. 1886–88
Joined by a remarkable group of seventeen related works by the artist that illuminates the lineage of the motif in Seurat’s inimitable conté crayon drawings, the exhibition explores the fascination the subject held for other 19th century artists from the influential 19th century caricaturist Honoré Daumier, whose caricatures lampooned the changing political climate in 19th century France, to a young Pablo Picasso at the fin de siècle. More than 100 works are on loan ranging from drawings, prints, vintage posters, illustrated journals and musical instruments that vividly depict traveling circuses and fairs of the period. One of the many viewing pleasures is the whiff of Parisian joie de vivre and the city’s bustling art scene.
Georges Seurat, Trombonist, 1887–88
Seurat worked on Circus Sideshow for six years and it represents one of a half dozen figurative paintings he produced. The artist is known for his draftsmanship seen in the painting’s precise geometric shapes, as well as his innovative use of pointillism (brush strokes of dots) and divisionism (separating and dividing color), techniques he developed leading to the Neo-Impressionist era.
Honoré Daumier, The Sideshow (La Parade), ca. 1865–66
Circus Sideshow details the purchase of tickets and the attendant Parade, a come-on or sideshow featuring groups of Saltimbangues (circus performers) and rousing music as free entertainment. Customers are expected to queue up the stairs to the box office. On the makeshift stage under the glow of nine twinkling gaslights, five musicians, a ringmaster and clown play to the assembled crowd of onlookers whose assorted hats add a wry and rhythmic note to the foreground of this austere nocturnal painting, the only nighttime composition Seurat produced before his untimely death at 31.
Fernand Pelez, Grimaces and Misery—The Saltimbanques, 1888
Among the Seurats on display are three surviving preparatory studies for Circus Sideshow and a suite of five drawings of cafe society singers. The other Seurat painting is the small version of “Models” (Poseuses) 1887-88, in which the artist reverses direction rendering daylight, flesh and a moment of relaxation. The larger version resides in the Barnes Collection and debuted with Circus Sideshow in the 1888 Salon des Indépendants.
Jean-François Raffaëlli, Les Saltimbanques-L’Orchestre en parade, 1884
Other highlights: Rembrandt’s dry painted Christ Presented To the People (1655); a first-time showing in the U.S. of Fernand Pelez’s monumental Grimaces and Misery—The Saltimbanques (Petit Palais, Paris), which was presented at the Salon of 1888, at the same time as Seurat’s brooding masterpiece debuted at the Salon des Indépendants. And catch such favorites as Pierre Bonnard, Lucien Pissarro, Emile Bernard, and the American Maurice Pendergast, among others.
Kudos must go to historian and guest curator Richard Thomas professor of Fine Arts at the University of Edinburgh and the Met’s Susan Alysin Stein, curator of Nineteenth Century European Paintings in the Department of European Paintings for the brilliant installation and fine catalogue.
Through May 29, 2017, Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Images (in order):
Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque), 1887–88
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960
Pierrot and Colombine, ca. 1886–88
Kasama Nichido Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection in memory of
Frances P. McIlhenny, 1986
The Sideshow (La Parade), ca. 1865–66
Fernand Pelez (French, 1848–1913)
Grimaces and Misery—The Saltimbanques, 1888
Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris
Jean-François Raffaëlli (French, 1850–1924)
Saltimbanques—The Sideshow Orchestra
(Les Saltimbanques—L’Orchestre en parade), ca. 1884