Sunday, October 10, 2010

This 'The Little Foxes' Retains Mendacity

Lynda Gravatt, Cristin Milioti, Christopher Evan Welch and Tina Benko, above, in "The Little Foxes." Below, Denise Summerford and Cheney Snow are “In Transit.” "The Little Foxes" photo by Jan Versweyveld; "In Transit" by James Leynse.


MUSIC syncopates with menace. The stage is encased in purple velvet and looks cavernous. There is no curtain, just the rising tension of the beat of the music to open the proceedings.

Mid-stage is an archway framing a staircase; above the archway is a TV screen. Projected from it is a man lying on his back. Characters enter from far behind the archway – audible before they are visible. The stage is now set for what follows: deception, unease, danger, betrayal,

Ivo van Hove is the mastermind behind this avant-garde interpretation of Lillian Hellman's classic, “The Little Foxes.” And as unusual as the staging seems, it also evokes a modern resetting of a Greek tragedy. LH's tale is full of evil-doing and unpleasantness, hiding under the guise of a civilized and mannered family saga. In this production of "The Little Foxes" at New York Theater Workshop, the characters are dressed in business suits and evening dresses. The women wear high heels. Virtually all of the players are strivers hungry for power, prestige and money.

The entire cast – from Sanjit De Silva's Mr. Marshall of Chicago whose project to build a cotton mill in town precipitates the chain of events that ends so tragically to the exquisite Elizabeth Marvel whose Regina Giddens is a masterpiece of a monster – is wonderful.

Regina is willing to sacrifice her only child, Alexandra (Cristin Milioti) to get a piece of the Hubbard family's expected fortune. Her brother, Ben, (Marton Csokas) exercises his brutality with brio. Their other brother, Oscar, (Thomas Jay Ryan) is a mean-spirited bully. Symbolically and to the disgust of his wife, Birdie, he kills animals for sport and pleasure. Unlike Ben, he is actually a weakling and easily cheated by his manipulative siblings. Ben and Regina are equals, or would be if Regina weren't a woman.

The play is still set in a southern town, racked by unemployment and filled with racial unease. The Hubbard brothers look to profit handsomely from "bringing the mill to the cotton" and routinely cheat the local blacks. They need Regina to bring a third share of the investment to keep it in the family. To further her schemes, Regina sends Alexandra to bring her husband back home from the hospital. Alexandra adores her father but she does as she is told. Horace Giddens (Christopher Evan Welch) does not lack principles or intelligence but he does lack the strength to stop his wife's machinations.

To try to avert disaster Alexandra enlists as allies Birdie (Tina Benko) and the house servants, Addie (Lynda Gravatt) and Cal (Greig Sargeant), who are the moral center amid the malevolence.

The drama is intense and gripping with no intermission to distract and the performances and staging are worthy of this fevered plot.

Visit for general information about "Little Foxes.

'In Transit,' and Always With a Song for the Ride

are young or youngish, and your love life, work life – even where you live your life – are "In Transit." You have to sing about it, a cappella at that, on the platform of subway stations, opening with "Not There Yet" to set the stage:

Inspired by the rhythms and sounds of life on the subway, “In Transit” was written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth. The four were members of an a cappella group in college.

Chesney Snow as Boxman stands out in this largely unknown cast since he is our charming narrator and host, as well as the beatbox for the proceedings. “In Transit” is a simple story but this world premiere production at Primary Stages (59E59 Theaters) – under the musical direction of Mary-Mitchell Campbell and musical staging and direction of Joe Calarco – is complicated. Everyone has to sing either as the lead or as backup on every number. The actors portray 38 different characters, and their nuanced acting distinguishes each of them: the aspiring actress temping for a "corporate diva"; the out-of-work stock broker; the jilted lover, the closeted man. They perform with verve and skill.

Along with our narrator, Steve French, Celisse Henderson, Hannah Laird, Graham Stevens, Denise Summerford, and Tommar Wilson take travelers on a thrilling ride from "Not there Yet" to "Getting There."

Visit for general information about "In Transit."

Tamara Beck is President, Clean Lists Associates, Inc, an association management firm. And an avid theater-goer.

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