Month: February 2019

Winthrop Transcript Review

Run. Take the T. Drive. Call a transportation service. However you get there, don’t miss Lyric Stage Company of Greater Boston’s superb pro­duction of Lillian Hellman’s classic play, “The Little Fox­es”.  theater at its best.”

Screenshot of the review by Sheila Barth

The Life of Lillian Hellman

by Aliza Kenney

At the age of 15, Lillian Hellman stole a ring from her uncle which she pawned in order to buy books. When she confessed what she had done, her uncle said, “So you’ve got spirit after all. Most of the rest of them are made of sugar water.” This statement would go on to define Hellman’s life, and indeed, she used the line in The Little Foxes to describe her enigmatic heroine, Regina Giddens. Hellman was a fiercely unapologetic, intelligent, headstrong woman in an age when such behavior was met with shock, scorn, and condescension. She fought her whole career to be taken seriously as an artist and a public figure.

Photo of Lillian Hellman sitting in a chair in her home
UNITED STATES – APRIL 16: Author Lillian Hellman at home on Park Ave. (Photo by Dan Jancino/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

At the age of just 29, Hellman was the first woman to be admitted to the Club of American Dramatists after the huge success of her first play, The Children’s Hour. Yet much of her work, particularly The Little Foxes, has been discredited as “merely melodrama.” Some critics dismiss the dramatic plot and larger-than-life characters as too simplistic, comparing her work to the more down to earth, gritty work of her male contemporaries. They imply in their reviews that her gender limited her ability to tell complex, logical stories. But Hellman’s melodramatic style was intentional and effective. In an interview she reflected, “If you believe, as the Greeks did, that man is at the mercy of the Gods, then you write tragedy. The end is inevitable from the beginning. But if you believe that man can solve his own problems and is at nobody’s mercy, then you will probably write melodrama.” Despite detractors, her melodramas were highly successful, annd earned her a place in theater history.

Photo of a younger Lillian Hellman
Lillian Hellman

In 1952, Hellman was called in from of the House Committee on Un-American Activities along with many artists and writers of the time. Her Communist connections and history of political leftism made her an ideal target. In fact, the themes of greed and corruption in The Little Foxes were touted as evidence of her Socialist tendencies. She agreed to testify, but only about her own activities. In a letter to the committee she said, “to hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and dishonorable.” She risked imprisonment for contempt of Congress, was blacklisted, and saw her income drop from $150,000 a year to virtually nothing. Still, she stood by her actions, declaring, “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” This move gained her respect and support on the left, but only served to confirm the worst assumptions of her doubters. To this day some have written her off as a “lying, Stalinist traitor.”

A screenshot of the cover of Lillian Hellman's Memoir "An Unfinished Woman" with her sitting down

Hellman was not immune to the antics that seemed to go hand in hand with literary celebrity at the time. In the same era when Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal were coming to blows in talk show green rooms and at parties, Hellman found an enemy in novelist, critic, and political activist Mary McCarthy. In 1979 during an interview on The Dick Cavett Show, McCarthy laughingly declared, “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the,’” a comment which led to a long drawn-out lawsuit between the two women, which only ended when Hellman died.) Cavett himself said, “No one was neutral about Lillian. She had a famous friendship with Dorothy Parker, yet to Jean Stafford she was ‘Old Scaly Bird.’”

The Cover of Lillian Hellman's book "Pimento"

Even when she moved on from playwriting, Hellman continued to ruffle feathers. In her later years she wrote three memoirs about different eras in her life: An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time. These books were even more popular than her plays, but the veracity of her stories was intensely debated. One chapter in Pentimento in particular led to a debate which haunts Hellman’s reputation to this day. It reflects on her relationship with a woman named Julia, and recounts that Hellman once smuggled $50,000 to her to be used in bribing Nazi guards to free prisoners. After the book’s release, Dr. Muriel Gardiner, a psychoanalyst who was active in the Austrian underground in World War II, suggested that her experience was the model for the Hellman story, though the two had never met. Hellman dismissed these accusations, claiming that that Gardiner “may have been the model for somebody else’s Julia, but she was certainly not the model for my Julia.”

Lillian Hellman and her long time partner Dashiell Hammett sitting and drinking

        Hellman split opinion and attracted the limelight all her life. At some points, she seemed to revel in the experience, at others she seemed to have been exhausted by the whole facade. She once quoted Dashiell Hammett, her long-time lover, as telling her, “The truth is you don’t like the theater except the times when you’re in a room by yourself putting the play on paper.” Though the apparent contradictions of her life may never be explained, some insight into the truth behind the imposing figure may be found in the stories she brought to life on stage. Above all else, she certainly had spirit, in a world of people made of sugar water.

More about The Little Foxes:

Lillian Hellman’s classic drama captures the riveting story of how a family’s vicious pursuit of financial success destroys the American Dream. In the post-Civil War South, Regina Giddens and her scheming brothers, Oscar and Ben, want to partner on a business deal to exploit the poor and increase their already substantial wealth. There is only one problem: Regina’s husband, Horace, refuses to give them the funds they need — setting in motion a vicious game of duplicitous dealings that ultimately leads to death. A timely story about corrosion of the soul and corruption of the heart.

Boston and Beyond/Art & Entertainment: The Little Foxes Review

This review was originally Posted on Boston and Beyond/Art & Entertainment.

A fox hissing with a woman holding a fur scarf in the background

It has been said that, “blood is thicker than water,” but not with the seemingly genteel, Southern Hubbard family.

Craig Mathers drinking tea and Cheryl D. Singleton standing by him

States Addie, the black maid in Regina’s household,  “Well, there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it. Sometimes I think it ain’t right to stand and watch them do it.” This is a description that aptly surrounds three members of the Hubbard family. They are siblings that include the manipulative and scheming Regina, the cruel, abusive, and arrogant Oscar, and the possessive bachelor, Benjamin. They have decided to partner together to increase their already substantial, ill-gotten wealth that was built on the backs of the negro population. Only one road block exists that prevents the three acquiring millions. Regina’s terminally ill husband, Horace, is refusing to give them the $75,000 they need to make the transaction. The Lyric Stage at 140 Clarendon Street presents this engaging, classic, 20th century drama by the great American playwright, Lillian Hellman.  Directed by three time IRNE and four time Elliot Norton award-winner Scott Edmiston, the 150 minute story is so riveting that audience members seemed anxious to return to their seats after each intermission to continue the action filled tale that is rife with scheming, thievery, lying, murder and retribution through blackmail.

The cast sitting in the living room talking

 The production is set in an astoundingly beautiful design by four time IRNE and four time Elliot Norton award-winner Janie E. Howland**. The cast have been clothed in exquisite period costumes by IRNE award-winner Costume Designer Gail Astrid Buckley. Overhead, the lighting designs by Lighting design is by 3-time IRNE award-winner, Karen Perlow**further adds ambiance to the setting while cleverly creative and mysterious, original music by IRNE and Elliot Norton award-winner for Music and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay, provides excellent musical intro and transitions throughout the play.

Craig MAthers sitting down while Anne Gottlieb and Amelia Broome takl to him

The production features an impressive cast including IRNE and Elliot Norton award-winner Anne Gottlieb* as Regina Hubbard Giddens, the viciously ambitious sister of the Hubbard clan. IRNE award-winner Ameila Broome* performs as Oscar’s oppressed wife, Birdie;  Craig Mathers* is Horace, Regina’s ill husband.

 Will McGarrahan sitting on the couch with Michael John Ciszewski standing by him

IRNE award-winner Remo Airaldi* is Ben;  Will McGarrahan* is Oscar; Cheryl D. Singleton* is Addie, the faithful maid; IRNE award-winner Bill Mootos*is Mr. Marshall who the trio plan to do business with; Michael John Ciszewski is Leo, Oscar’s equally conniving son; Rosa Procaccino  is Alexandra, Regina’s daughter who becomes a pawn in the plot; and Kinson Theodoris is Cal, Regina’s houseboy.

Rosa Procaccino sitting in a chair with Anne Gottlieb standing over her

Variety called The Little Foxes, “A brilliant, blistering indictment of a rapacious southern family.” To find out if money will come out on top without destroying the family you may obtain tickets by visiting www.lyricstage.com/productions/the-little-foxes/

About The Little Foxes:

Lillian Hellman’s classic drama captures the riveting story of how a family’s vicious pursuit of financial success destroys the American Dream. In the post-Civil War South, Regina Giddens and her scheming brothers, Oscar and Ben, want to partner on a business deal to exploit the poor and increase their already substantial wealth. There is only one problem: Regina’s husband, Horace, refuses to give them the funds they need — setting in motion a vicious game of duplicitous dealings that ultimately leads to death. A timely story about corrosion of the soul and corruption of the heart.

Why³ with Scott Edmiston

We asked all of our directors this season the question “why?” Here are the answers from the director of our upcoming show, The Little Foxes!

Why The Little Foxes?

“Lillian Hellman was America’s first great female playwright, a feminist pioneer, and a moral force. Her work deserves to be seen, celebrated, and reconsidered. And it’s just a damn good story.”

Why at The Lyric Stage?

“Lyric Stage audiences LOVE American classics. They GET them. They Lyric Stage has become the go-to place in Boston for new 21st-century versions of great 20th-century plays”

Why now?

The Little Foxes was written in 1939. It is a cautionary tale about the danger of allowing greedy, dishonest, self-serving businessmen to take over your country. Hmmm… I wonder if it will still be relevant today?”

More about Scott Edmiston:

Scott Edmiston (Director) returns to the Lyric Stage where he recently directed the award-winning productions of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (2017 Elliot Norton Award) and My Fair Lady, (2016 Elliot Norton Award). Other Lyric stage credits: Light Up the Sky, Cat on a Hot Tin RoofWater by the Spoonful,Time Stands Still, My Name is Asher LevMiss WitherspoonThe Scene, Lobby Hero, and Private Lives. He has directed more than 60 Boston-area productions at SpeakEasy Stage, American Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre, and Underground Railway Theatre, among others. Highlights include Long Day’s Journey into Night, Constellations, Shakespeare in Love, The History Boys, Casa Valentina, The Light in the Piazza, Reckless, Five by Tenn, In the Next Room or the vibrator play, A Marvelous Party, and Betrayal. Six of his productions have received Elliot Norton Awards as Outstanding Production or Musical, and he has received four Norton Awards and three IRNE Awards for his direction. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from Penn State, the StageSource Theatre Hero Award, and the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence in Theatre. He is the author of “Acting Misbegotten: The Creative Journey to Eugene O’Neill” published in the anthology Critical Insights: Eugene O’Neill (Salem Press, 2012). Scott is a Professor of the Practice and Chair of the Department of Theatre at Northeastern University.

More about The Little Foxes:

Lillian Hellman’s classic drama captures the riveting story of how a family’s vicious pursuit of financial success destroys the American Dream. In the post-Civil War South, Regina Giddens and her scheming brothers, Oscar and Ben, want to partner on a business deal to exploit the poor and increase their already substantial wealth. There is only one problem: Regina’s husband, Horace, refuses to give them the funds they need — setting in motion a vicious game of duplicitous dealings that ultimately leads to death. A timely story about corrosion of the soul and corruption of the heart.