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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.

Lillian Hellman’s Regina Giddens: The Theatre’s Original “Nasty Woman”

June 19, 2017

Written by Sarah Rebell

When I set out to write a piece on The Little Foxes, I headed right to the Drama Book Shop in New York City, to browse and research all things Lillian Hellman. Shockingly, there were no biographies of her in stock or on order. She was not even included in the Drama Book Shop’s most basic book series outlining the lives of accomplished American playwrights. I perused Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores with large theatre sections, but all to no avail. The most recent Hellman biography (less than five years old and provocatively titled A Difficult Woman) was even hard to obtain on Amazon; I had to purchase it through a third party seller. Not only are Hellman biographies in short supply, so too are Hellman revivals. Her plays have only been brought back to Broadway six times total, as opposed to the 25 Broadway revivals for Arthur Miller, or the 31 Broadway revivals for Tennessee Williams. To this day, she has never won a Best Play or Best Revival of a Play Tony Award. The sixth and current Hellman revival is of her most acclaimed play, The Little Foxes, which is about the unconventional Southern matriarch Regina Giddens, who manipulates her brothers’ moneymaking scheme with grit, ambition, and business acumen.

Click Here to Read Full Article

Why³ with Director A. Nora Long | The Wolves

We sat down with Director A. Nora Long to learn what makes The Wolves one of the most impressive new plays in recent years!

Why is this play important?

There are few groups as universally-maligned as teenage girls. The vast majority of our pop culture representations portray them as vain, shallow, cruel, and vapid. Delappe affords us a nuanced, funny, thoughtful insight into the lives of young women, as they wrestle through the rather fraught process of growing-up, focusing on their humanity, in all its wonders and flaws, and their athleticism. Make no mistake, this is a play about a team of competitive athletes. These players are seeking immediate victories but also future security and college scholarships. Like soldiers preparing for battle, we see our heroes in moments of vulnerability and triumph, brash confidence and blistering defeat. And they keep coming back each Saturday for another shot at glory. It is a story of perseverance in the face of adversity, a celebration of the human spirit, and a showcase of the extraordinary abilities of the body.  In short, it is a great fucking play.

Why is the Lyric Stage the right fit for this play?

Young women are, by far, the largest demographic in the local casting pool. After spending years seeing thousands of brilliant actors for the odd part as the girlfriend, the daughter, or the broad in the tower, finding a beautiful story that plays to our community’s strengths was an obvious fit for Lyric Stage’s long-standing commitment to local artists. Lyric audiences have always prized rich, character-driven stories that offer them a unique perspective on the world. The Wolves is an astonishing play that does all that and more. Also, where else can you get the feeling of sitting pitch-side at the City Sports Dome indoor soccer field arena?

Why is this play important to do now?

It’s always the right time to do great plays, but as the national conversation seeks to be more inclusive of the experiences of under-represented groups, a play about young women as human beings and athletes feels particularly of the moment. If the future is female, have no doubt, the future is coming.

About The Wolves

January 11 – February 3, 2019

Left quad. Right quad. Lunge. A girls’ indoor soccer team warms up. From the safety of their suburban stretch circle, the team navigates big questions and wages tiny battles with all the vigor of a pack of adolescent warriors. As the author says, “I wanted to see a portrait of teenage girls as human beings – as complicated, nuanced, very idiosyncratic people, athletes and daughters and students and scholars and people who are trying actively to figure out who they are in this changing world around them.” 

The Wolves was a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

“The scary, exhilarating brightness of raw adolescence emanates from every scene of this uncannily assured first play.”   – The New York Times

Job Opportunity: Managing Director

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, is seeking an energetic, collaborative, and self-motivated individual for the position of Managing Director.

Summary

The Managing Director will be the Lyric Stage’s chief operating officer (COO) and will report to the Producing Artistic Director/CEO of the company for a one-year period, and to the Board of Directors thereafter. This is a key leadership role not only at the Lyric Stage but also in the cultural life of the Greater Boston Area and will be one of the public faces of the Lyric Stage. This individual will tend to the overall financial well-being of the organization, paying special attention to fundraising initiatives set by the Board of Directors. The successful candidate will share our passion for theatre, theatre arts education, and the Lyric Stage’s distinct and historic role in the cultural life of Greater Boston and must be comfortable with a small full-time staff (10 persons) and a fast-paced fun office environment. They must have an excellent sense of humor.

Requirements

The successful candidate will have a college degree and a minimum of five years of related management experience in nonprofit arts administration, theatre, or a related field. A successful track record in fundraising and leadership best practices is expected.

The Lyric Stage is committed to a diverse and inclusive work environment.  Application by any and all qualified candidates is encouraged.

Job Description

Finances: Have a high-level financial management acumen (including budgeting and budget management). With the Producing Artistic Director, ensure that the annual budget is prepared with input from all departments and approved by the Board. Ensure that the day-to-day operations are conducted to meet revenue and expense goals. Meet periodically with the staff and the Board to report results. Make recommendations to the Producing Artistic Director and Board for adjustments to plan for and accommodate changes. With the General Manager, ensure that expenses are paid on a timely basis and all accounts are in order. Work with the Lyric Stage’s auditor to prepare the annual audit, IRS filings, and all necessary reports to the state and federal governments. Explore financial instruments to maximize interest on accounts.

Fundraising: Set fundraising goals and budget with Board. Ensure that goals are properly addressed with events and activities that allow goals to be met. With Executive Committee of the Board and the Producing Artistic Director, work towards establishing an endowment. Seek corporate, foundation, and individual sponsors (including major gifts). Maintain lists of target donors for development. Explore opportunities for grants and complete proposals. Be an active participant in fundraising, working with the Board Development Committee and meeting with potential donors in all phases of development.

Strategic: With the Producing Artistic Director and the Board, develop or revise the mission statement. The Managing Director will be a member of the Board’s Strategic Planning Committee. Actively participate with the Producing Artistic Director. Associate Artistic Director and Marketing Director in season planning for maximum attendance results while balancing artistic goals. Work with the Producing Artistic Director and Marketing Director to develop target audiences, marketing plans, and the marketing budget to ensure robust ticket sales. Explore and develop opportunities for community outreach and partnerships.

Personnel: Attract and retain staff sufficient to meet budget and goals. Develop talent in key areas for continuity. They should consider themselves a mentor to other administrative positions (box office, general management, marketing, and development) in order to continue the cross-training of the staff to ensure smooth operations. With the Producing Artistic Director, set the tone for the office culture.

Other: The Managing Director should be a partner with the Producing Artistic Director/CEO of the company in its operations. The Managing Director should have good written and verbal communication skills, work well with staff in a transparent, collaborative manner, and be involved with the day-to-day operations of the staff. The Managing Director should be one of the recognizable faces and positions in the Lyric Stage family.  As such, they should be available at key performances (or at non-traditional office hours) to be in front of the audience and contacting key stakeholders. The Managing Director should attend meetings and gatherings within the theatre and cultural community. They should be a good negotiator and be the point person for the Lyric Stage for collective bargaining with the unions that the company currently works with (currently Actors Equity Association, Boston Musicians Union, Stage Directors and Choreographers, United Scenic Artists). Other duties assigned by the Board of Directors. They should have great people skills.

This is a full-time salaried position. Benefits include participation in a health plan, contribution to a 403-b plan administered by Fidelity Investments, a dental plan, pre-tax T-pass benefits, reciprocal free or discounted admission to most museums and cultural institutions throughout the Commonwealth, and a liberal paid time off policy.

Please submit a cover letter, current Resume and three references with their contact information to search@lyricstage.com. No phone calls, please.

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis. Please apply by February 15th, 2019.

Breath & Imagination Press Photos

All photos by Mark S. Howard

Davron S. Monroe with Asher Denburg

Davron S. Monroe with Asher Denburg
Davron S. Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo
Doug Gerber, Davron S. Monroe
Davron S. Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo
Davron S. Monroe with Asher Deburg, Yewande Odetoyinbo
Davron S. Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo
Davron S. Monroe, Yewande Odetoyinbo
Paula Plum holding a gun and Adrianne Krstansky

DigBoston Review: The Roommate

Paula Plum and Adrianne Krstansky in The Roommate. Photo by Mark S. Howard.

★★★★☆

Two of Boston’s best-loved actresses join forces for The Roommate, Jen Silverman’s quirky comedy about two middle-aged women who find themselves living together, trying new things, and reckoning with a demon or two. Paula Plum plays Sharon, a 54-year-old Iowa woman who has recently retired from her marriage and takes in a roommate in order to save a little money. Adrianne Krstansky plays Robyn, a gay vegan from the Bronx whose arrival awakens in Sharon something real and untapped.

Directed by Spiro Veloudos, The Roommate is an irresistible treat featuring two beloved actresses at the top of their games. The play loses a bit of steam in its last third when Sharon takes a special interest in Robyn’s past, but Plum’s evolution (or devolution, depending on how you look at it) from provincial Midwestern matron to a scheming, pot-selling hussy is profoundly entertaining. What’s more, it’s the best thing the Lyric has done in nearly two years.

THE ROOMMATE. THROUGH 11.18 AT THE LYRIC STAGE COMPANY OF BOSTON, 140 CLARENDON ST., BOSTON. LYRICSTAGE.COM