THE LITTLE FOXES by Lillian Hellman, directed by Eda Holmes (Shaw). At the Royal George, Niagara-??on-??the-??Lake. In rep to November 1. $25-??$89. See Continuing, page 90. Rating: NNNN
Shaw’s version of The Little Foxes makes the most of a terrific ensemble
Lillian Hellman’s study of chicanery and ruthless manipulation looks at a Southern family who want all they can get, and the Shaw Festival’s production revels in the work’s unabashed melodrama.
It’s the U.S. South in 1900, and the sibs at the centre of the story – Regina (Laurie Paton) and her brothers Oscar (Peter Krantz) and Ben (Ric Reid) – are an avaricious middle-??class trio who plan to get rich by building a cotton mill. They need the financial help of Regina’s sick husband, Horace (David Jansen), for the deal to go ahead.
But Horace isn’t willing, and the plots by the brothers and sister, not just for Horace’s money but also against each other, are truly Machiavellian. They involve Regina’s innocent daughter Alexandra (Krista Colosimo), Oscar’s weaselly son Leo (Gray Powell) and a Northern businessman (Norman Browning) ripe for Regina’s flirtation.
Director Eda Holmes lays out these characters’ large-??scale desires while also paying attention to the subtleties of their personalities. Reid’s Ben is a bitter businessman, envious of the Southern aristocracy represented by Oscar’s wife, Birdie (Sharry Flett). Krantz’s Oscar, not the sharpest knife in the family drawer, is a vicious bully at home.
Flett is marvellous as the ethereal Birdie, living in dreams of the past to escape an abusive present, while Jansen’s wheelchair-??bound, stubborn Horace is the warmest, most human of the men, concerned that his daughter escape the life planned out for her. Lisa Codrington’s Addie, the family maid, has a quiet strength that lets her stand up for her charge Alexandra.
Not everything in the show comes together, though. Colosimo doesn’t fill in Alexandra enough to make us care for her, and it takes Paton the whole first act to show us the steeliness beneath Regina’s blandishments.
But by the second half, when her needs surface, Regina has become a selfishly powerful, scary figure who won’t let anyone block her path to money and the good life. Paton even manages to evoke a touch of compassion for Regina in the play’s final moments.
These few small problems don’t derail a production that shows off the strength of a well-??plotted script and the talent of the Shaw ensemble. These foxes have bite.