The Pasadena Playhouse is to be lauded for its riveting revival of one of the iconic works of the American stage. Penned in 1939, Lillian Hellman’s exquisitely crafted “The Little Foxes” gives historical perspective to the jaundiced machinations of such contemporary financial villains as Bernard Madoff and Michael Milken. In a finely detailed perusal of familial avarice and betrayal in a small turn-of-the-20th century Southern town, helmer Damaso Rodriguez exposes the self-serving agenda driving each member of the upwardly mobile Hubbard family during the course of a deceptively festive opening-scene dinner party.
Rodriguez is in sync with the scripter’s agenda, guiding a superbly balanced ensemble through every nuance of the subsequent disintegration of the bottom-feeding Hubbard clan as aristocrat-wannabe Regina (Kelly McGillis) does battle with her ruthless brothers, Benjamin (Steve Vinovich) and Oscar (Marc Singer), for control of a business venture with Yankee capitalist William Marshall (Tom Schmid).
Along the way, the production underscores the tragic consequences inflicted on the good people who get in the way, including Regina’s resolute but sickly husband, Horace Giddens (Geoff Pierson); her innocent teenage daughter, Alexandra (Rachel Sondag); and Oscar’s genteel but achingly fragile wife, Birdie (Julia Duffy). Acting as a wizened but thoroughly subjugated Greek chorus to the action are Regina’s servants Addie (Yvette Cason) and Cal (Cleavant Derricks).
Better known for their film and TV portrayals, McGillis (“Witness,” “Top Gun”) and Duffy (“Newhart,” “Designing Women”) offer resonant portrayals of two flawed Southern women heading in opposite directions in the social order. McGillis’ Regina embodies the grasping insecurity of a carpetbagger’s daughter whose thin veneer of sophistication is obliterated by her raging need to escape a loveless marriage and the domination of her brothers. Her reluctance to assist her dying husband is more an act of fear than malice.
Duffy’s Birdie projects the delicate, faded elegance of an ever-tippling former plantation aristocrat whose miniscule body and spirit have been battered by her brute of a husband and sniveling ne’er-do-well son, Leo (effectively portrayed by Shawn Lee). Duffy evokes the rock-bed integrity of Birdie’s soul as Birdie refutes Oscar’s desire to marry off Leo to Alexandra (an attractive, straightforward portrayal by Sondag).
Singer turns in a memorable perf. His shifty, wolverine-like Oscar is always placing himself within attack distance to whomever is the current center of attention. He is ably contrasted by Vinovich’s more cerebrally contained older brother, Benjamin, who prefers to stand back and wait for opportunities to reveal themselves.
Pierson acquits himself well as Horace, who has the intelligence and integrity to defeat the Hubbards but not the physical stamina. Also noteworthy is Schmid’s opening-scene portrayal of Yankee corporate opportunist Marshall, who is more amused than impressed by the transparent machinations of his Southern hosts.
Abetting the proceedings is Gary Wissman’s open-air, frame-like realization of a Southern mansion that allows added dimension to Dan Jenkins’ lighting, especially during the fatal staircase showdown between Regina and Horace.