Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


Megan Graves Tackles the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Arena Stage’s The Little Foxes


Lillian Hellman’s play, The Little Foxes, first premiered on Broadway in 1939, followed by a film in 1941. Tallulah Bankhead played the Hubbard family matriarch, Regina, on stage, with Bette Davis assuming that role on the big screen. The play has been revived on Broadway three times, with Anne Bancroft (1967), Elizabeth Taylor (1981), and Stockard Channing (1997) playing Regina. The Little Foxes will run from September 23 through October 30 at Arena Stage with Marg Helgenberger as Regina.

Since it’s been nearly ten years since the last Broadway revival, why now? “I think what this play has to say about women – powerful women – it’s incredibly timely, especially considering the election cycle that we are in,” said Megan Graves who plays Regina’s daughter, Alexandra, known as Zan. “Certainly, perspectives on women in 1900 [the time period of the play] are different, but in many ways, unfortunately, they are not. I think it’s surprisingly relevant.”

The Little Foxes centers on the very Southern Hubbard family: Regina; her husband, Horace; her two brothers, Benjamin and Oscar; Oscar’s wife, Birdie; and Zan. Hellman apparently based the characters on relatives from her mother’s family. In the early 20th century, only sons were considered legal heirs. Regina wants financial freedom and she will stop at nothing to obtain that independence. “The stakes in this play are very high, and the lengths that the characters will go to achieve their goals are a little scary,” said Megan. “I, for one, see that in D.C. politics, and so these characters, particularly Regina, but also her two brothers, Oscar and Ben, are very recognizable at any time in Washington. There’s a lot of humanity underneath this grasping for power, but at a certain point the emotional depth becomes subverted.”

Zan becomes the moral core of the play. “Alexandra is 17 and she’s trying to find who she is in the maelstrom of family dysfunction,” Megan said. “She becomes caught between her mother and her father who have opposing ideas about what should happen with the family business and to the family itself. And in the end she makes a choice for her own future that also means rejecting a lot of who she has been up to that point.”

Megan said that she read Hellman’s The Children’s Hour in college, but wasn’t as familiar with The Little Foxes. “I didn’t realize until I auditioned how autobiographical [the play] was,” she said. “We have a  great dramaturgical team helping us and the information they are giving us is so incredibly informative. I was able to read interviews that Lillian Hellman gave about the play, what she intended, and what audiences take from the play and how those two things aren’t always in synch. I found that fascinating.”

The mother-daughter relationship is an important theme in the play. “Alexandra really craves her mother’s affection and approval,” Megan said. “The tricky thing is that she also has a very strong sense of right and wrong and at a certain point trying to please her mother and trying to do what’s right aren’t one and the same any more. So there’s a huge conflict for her when she has to choose between what she sees as doing the right thing and doing what her mother asks. That’s what really starts the journey towards growing up.”

Megan was born in Mesa, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix. Homeschooled through high school, she received her BFA from the Shenandoah Conservatory, in Winchester, Virginia. After enjoying Shakespeare in high school, Megan thought she would become a writer. That all changed in college when she began doing local theater in northern Virginia.

She has become a familiar presence for theatergoers in the D.C. area, having appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Folger Theatre, Passion Play and Clementine in the Lower 9 at Forum Theatre, and several productions at Imagination Stage in Bethesda, including The BFG, winning a Helen Hayes Award.

Does she have a favorite? “That’s tough,” she said. “I had a great time doing Midsummer NIght’s Dream at Folger this spring. That was just a lovely group of people and a really joyful interpretation of the play that was just so refreshing and wonderful to do every night. I have to say I have a very warm place in my heart for Passion Play which I did at Forum Theater last year. That was probably the production that has changed how I look at theater.”

Megan said she feels lucky to be part of the cast for Arena’s production. “It’s like a master class in the rehearsals every day,” she said. “Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m in the scene; I can’t just watch. It’s so incredible.”

Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage "Little Foxes" August 26, 2016

She feels very fortunate to be working with Helgenberger (above), who won an Emmy Award for playing K.C. Koloski in China Beach, which ran on ABC from 1988 to 1991, and is most identified with her long-running role as Catherine Willows on CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Helgenberger’s film credits include Erin Brockovich.

Helgenberger, Maegan said, “is lovely; she’s so giving and kind. We’ve had some good conversations about what the relationship is like [between Regina and Zan] and she’s game to try things. I was amazed at how transformative she is. She’s Regina. She has really taken this role on. The only thing I think about when I watch her work is how thoroughly she has stepped into this piece.”

Stepping into the characters also involves stepping into the dresses that women wore during the play’s time period. “There’s something about being laced into a corset that immediately transports you to the time,” she said. “I can’t slouch anymore; that 20-something slouching girl is gone and I have this incredible posture. It informs the character so much and layer on top of that the beautiful clothes that our designer [Jess Goldstein], unveils, it really helps to make the character come to life. l can’t wait to get all the costumes and get on stage and work with all of that.”

Megan hopes that the play’s themes will resonate with audiences, particularly through her character, Zan. “This play is really about power – who has it,  who is trying to get it – manifested through wealth,” she said. “Those who decide in the end to reject that, is a commentary on the choices that people make. In the play there’s a statement about family versus power and choosing one or the other. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of neutral ground at least in this play as far as maintaining that control and also maintaining that family bond. For some it’s simple and for others like Zan, it’s very complicated.”

The Little Foxes
Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street SW

Marg Helgenberger Photo © Tony Powell

The BFG – A Whizzpopping Good Time


It stands for “Big Friendly Giant,” and though he’s older than history can tell, this is the only name he has. The redundant nomenclature is care of an insomniac orphan who sees something she isn’t meant to see and that changes her life — and the world. On the surface The BFG is a simple yarn for children. However it also presents opportunities for audiences of all ages to look at their positions in the world and decide whether or not things are as they should be. That this very British movie should come out at a time when Britain is facing some real, potentially history-changing turmoil is clearly a coincidence, but a serendipitous one.

Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, The BFG the movie follows the tale of a little girl named Sophie, played by 12-year-old newcomer Ruby Barnhill. Sophie’s parents died when she was even younger, leaving her in the care of a negligent caretaker, Mrs. Clonkers. Very little time is spent addressing the nature of Clonker’s shortcomings, though we see Sophie locking up the house at night, making sure the clocks are on time, and telling off the loud drunkards who stumble out of the nearby pub at 3 a.m. It is during such an exchange that she notices an overturned trash bin, and then the giant hand that sets it right.


Though she doesn‘t know it yet, the hand belongs to the only non-cannibalistic giant in the world. Still, she’s seen too much, so that hand comes through the open dormitory doors and snatches Sophie from her bed — blanket, book and all — and whisks her away. Sophie is carried hundreds of miles from London, but after a bumpy start and a couple of failed escape attempts, the little girl and the big, gentle, elderly looking chap develop an understanding and friendship that bridges the gap between their sizes.

Her new friend collects good dreams from “dream country” that he delivers to sleeping children. It’s a lifestyle we soon see is endangered by the nine other inhabitants of “giant country,” a dreadful, quarrelsome group of child-eaters who are much bigger and much stronger than the BFG. (This group’s leader is Fleshlumpeater, played with great baritone menace by Jemaine Clement.) They just want to find the children and chow down. What the BFG eats instead will bring a knowing smile to those well versed in the Dahl lexicon.

Sophie witnesses the bullying the BFG endures, the lack of privacy and respect for his work, the utter disregard the other giants show for him and declares that something must be done. There is a lot to be said about bullying in this scene. There’s the question of how you handle it when you’re so much smaller and so very outnumbered. There’s the idea that no matter what you should try to stand up for yourself, or at least protect yourself. There’s the notion that the good guy will always be outnumbered and outmuscled, and the insistence that even then one can triumph over adversity with a little cleverness and cunning.


What follows is a child’s take on international cooperation, the triumph of good against evil, punishment of the chronically wicked, and the delightful effects of fizzy drinks.

The first half of the film is quite slow and, despite several attempts to grab the viewer with perspective tricks, lacks the energy one would expect in a Steven Spielberg movie. The trudging pacing is offset somewhat by the gorgeous, luscious scenery and attention to detail with respect to the titular character. The BFG, played by Oscar winner and Shakespearean actor extraordinaire Mark Rylance, bears many of Rylance’s features. From his sloping eyebrows to his sort of tight-lipped half-mumble, character artists have created an expressive and mostly realistic-looking figure. In close-up you can see pores in his skin, micro-wrinkles, wild hairs growing out of seemingly unexpected places for what is, for all intents and purposes, a high-level cartoon.

Where the filmmakers have succeeded in creating a distinct look and feel, that slow half made me question how members of the young target audience would sit through it. Kids won’t necessarily be captivated by the technological expertise. They want a good, entertaining story. And this is one; it just takes some time to get there.


A series of thoroughly silly scenes set in Buckingham palace kick things up to a really enjoyable pace. Laden with flatulence humor and sight gags, these scenes will no doubt tickle younger viewers’ funny bones and keep them giggling. These same scenes also make some interesting statements about acceptance, inclusion, trust and open-mindedness — something that perhaps we don’t see enough of these days. Penelope Wilton and Rafe Spall make a charming comedic duo as queen and footman, and no doubt kids will find the royal corgis utterly hilarious.

As with so many of Dahl’s stories, the ending is a mixed bag of dark and light, and it doesn’t deny the truth or strength of a child’s feelings and loyalty. It’s a mostly happy end, just tinged with sadness, but that may be more evident to the parents than their children. All in all, it’s a fine translation of a beloved classic and a beautiful look into a world of pure imagination.

The BFG opens nationwide July 1, 2016.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Films.