The Little Foxes at New York Theatre Workshop

Sunday night took us to see Ivo Van Hove’s production of The Little Foxes at NYTW. It was an exciting evening in the theater. Van Hove has stripped everything down to its bare essentials and what results is a searing portrait of a brutal power struggle between members of a scheming family.

The Hubbards are Southern strivers, not from the aristocratic class, they’ve clawed their way to wealth through various business enterprises and strategic marriages. Their desire for wealth dooms everyone who stands in their way. Oscar Hubbard runs a small bank and has married the high-class Birdie for her cotton plantation. He beats her and belittles her, he’s a hunter for sport and is casually brutal. Together they have a son, Leo, who is equally brutal and something of a wastrel. Ben Hubbard is unmarried – he says he will never marry – and he is the mastermind of the current business plan to bring a cotton mill to their town, funded by a Chicago entrepreneur. But it is their sister Regina Giddens that is the center of this dysfunctional family. She desperately wants her husband Horace to buy into her brothers’ scheme, but he is reluctant to do so, for a number of reasons that become evident over the course of the play.

The siblings fight and squabble and scheme over this business plan, gloating over what they will do with their newfound wealth. Regina dreams of going to Chicago in much the same way The Three Sisters want to go to Moscow. And she won’t let anything stand in her way, least of all her sick husband. Theft, conniving, backbiting and brutality ensue.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Thomas Jay Ryan is delightful as the oily Oscar Hubbard, Cristin Milioti brings depth and compassion to her portrayal of Regina’s daughter Alexandra. Lynda Gravatt turns in a wonderful, funny and intelligent portrayal of Addie, the negro serving lady. But it is Elizabeth Marvel as Regina Giddens who becomes the center of attention. Her complex multi-layered interpretation of this despicable woman is riveting. She continually finds unexpected ways to deliver lines, bringing added depth and meaning to the fore.

The show’s design is uncluttered. The entire stage is covered in purple carpeting, making a huge box in which the action happens. There is a video monitor over a staircase in center stage which shows the offstage characters as if they were portraits in a painting. It is a disturbing effect, often quite beautiful and haunting. There is nothing ornate or distracting in the design and that same aesthetic is embodied in the actors. What we are presented with is the bare essence of individuals playing into and off of each other. Van Hove has directed the actors with extraordinary focus and specificity, their emotional arcs are as clean as the lines of the stage design. Although the production is two hours without an intermission it feels like much less as this freight train of dysfunction hurtles speedily down the track to its inevitable conclusion.

The LIttle Foxes is a helluva a great night in the theater. Culturebot says go!

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