By Pat Launer
Put your leftover turkey in take-home boxes
And don’t forget “The Little Foxes.”
And only a few days left in the can
For UCSD’s lovely “Arms and the Man. ”
THE SHOW: The Little Foxes, written in 1939 by Lillian Hellman, made into a classic movie (1941), starring a very bitchy, witchy Bette Davis
THE SCOOP: A very nasty family, consumed by greed; irresistibly malicious and wicked, marvelously portrayed by an ab-fab ensemble. Cygnet soars again!
THE STORY/BACKSTORY and THE PLAYERS: The title comes from the Song of Solomon (2:15): Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines/ For our vines have tender grapes.” In the Prologue, Hellman wrote: “Little foxes have lived in all times, in all places. This family happens to live in the Deep South in the year 1900.” It could be Washington , D.C. , or Anytown , USA . Conventional wisdom has it that the characters were based on Hellman’s own New Orleans clan, with Regina a stand-in for her grandmother.
This little microcosm of America is obsessed with money and power. They embark on a spree of intra-family treachery, avarice and deceit, each of the siblings trying to outfox the others. The oldest, Ben (subtly and slickly played by Tom Stephenson), is a sly, villain in respectable garb. His brother Oscar is darker, duller and as played by Tim West, more sullen and loutish. Oscar’s wife, Birdie (magnificently, achingly portrayed by Glyn Bedington), is a faded flower of the Old South, a closet alcoholic who’s constantly excused for her perennial ‘headaches.’ Equally fragile and pathetic, but growing strong-willed and tensile by the end, is their mostly-ignored/neglected niece, Alexandra. In this role, Rachael van Wormer is beautiful, sad and genuine. Her mother, the monstrous Regina Hubbard Giddens , is played by Rosina Reynolds as a more nuanced, multifaceted woman than Bette Davis’ one-dimensional personification of evil. It’s possible to think, if just for a moment, that Regina is a commendably powerful woman in an era of misogyny and control. She’s asserting her independence and intelligence, trying to get her share, after a life of neediness, deprivation and disappointment. But of course, like her brothers, and her doltish, good-for-nothing nephew, Leo (played by Joseph Panwitz as a greasy-haired, cowardly sleaze), she goes way too far.
Each will stop at nothing to secure a significant share of a get-rich scheme — building a cotton mill in their small Southern town that will undoubtedly exploit the local poverty and cheap labor. The play may have a whiff of melodrama about it, but the writing is incisive, and there are some shocking scenes and brutal interactions. Rounding out the cast are Tom Zohar as the nearly-silent servant, Cal, and Michael Harvey who, like Bedington, is making a most welcome return to the stage. Harvey plays Herbert Marshall, the Northerner who seals the business deal, as kind of a cipher; but he nails Regina ’s husband, Horace, presenting him as a decent, ailing man who’s being used by all and sundry for his cache of cash. Horace tries vainly to subvert his wife’s nefarious plans, but she sabotages him and commits, in effect, a bloodless, weaponless murder. The ultimate suspense of the evening, though, is who’s going to sink the last figurative knife in whose back, and who’ll get the last, bitter laugh?
In a seminal moment, the knowing, no-nonsense maid, Addie (effective, unaffected Cynthia Marie Brooks) says: “There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it, like the Bible with the locusts. Then there are people who stand around and watch them eat it.” This is, in effect, an indictment of the Birdies and Horaces of the world, as well as the Hubbards . Only Alexandra takes action at the end, but it’s too late to save anyone but herself.
See it as an engaging, engrossing cautionary tale, filled with complex characters, unspeakable evil and unbridled greed. Or see it as an American classic. Just see it.
THE PRODUCTION : Director Sean Murray has created one of his most stunning sets to date. He ingeniously shows the parlor, dining room and hallway of Regina ’s well-appointed home, beautifully lit by Eric Lotze , shadows, lightning and all. Jeanne Reith’s costumes are exquisite, and Melissa E. Lewis provides an apt soundscape.
THE LOCATION : Cygnet Theatre, through December 18.
RUNNING TIME : 2 ½ hrs. ( with two intermissions)
BOTTOM LINE : definitely a best bet/must-see
MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR
THE SHOW: Arms and the Man , an early comedy (1894) by George Bernard Shaw, which established him as one of the greatest wits in London
THE SCOOP: UCSD’s gorgeously fine-tuned production of a witty satire that skewers idealistic illusions of class, war and romance
THE STORY and PLAYERS: Set in war-torn Bulgaria , 1885, the play is decidedly anti-war. The romantic notions of the ‘glories’ of battle share the stage with candid descriptions of war’s atrocities. And, among other pertinent aspects, the piece confronts the ability of people not so far removed from the atrocities to ignore them completely. Names need not be named….
The blunt Bluntschli (a potent, no-nonsense Ryan McCarthy), a Swiss mercenary officer fighting with the Serbs against the Bulgarians, takes refuge in the bedroom of Raina (adorably irresistible Rebecca Kaasa ), the young, quixotic daughter of a pretentious Bulgarian major (bumbling and ineffectual, as played by Samuel Stricklen ). By the end of the play, Raina is forced to renounce her idealistic notions of war and belief in ‘a higher love’, breaking her ingenuous engagement to the bombastic Bulgarian officer, Sergius (hilariously overblown Scott Drummond). Meanwhile, hypocritically professing his love, Sergius is diddling the ambitious maid, Louka (conniving but not quite seductive Genevieve Hardison ), who’s supposed to be engaged to the obsequious servant, Nicola (aptly officious Eduardo Placer). Mark Emerson, so compelling in the last UCSD production, Blood Wedding, makes an amusing cameo appearance as a Soldier, and Amy Ellenberger is convincing and effective as Raina’s mother, Catherine.
THE PRODUCTION : third year MFA student Jedediah Ike has created a dazzling design, making full use of the high-tech capabilities of the new Potiker Theatre. Without fussiness, the set effortlessly glides back and forth, transforming from a bedroom to a garden and then an amusingly bare, bookless library, the pride of the Petkoff home. The space is extremely well lit (Jeff Fightmaster ), with filtered light and cool colors. Elsi Thompson’s costumes are lovely at times and odd ( Raina’s outfit, for one) at others. But they enhance the stage pictures created by the talented director Joseph Ward. Our loss that he’s graduating soon; he’s done consistently excellent work at UCSD, and I suspect that he’ll be a busy director in the not-too-distant future.
THE LOCATION : The Potiker Theatre on the campus of UCSD; through November 26.
RUNNING TIME : 2 hrs ..
NEWS AND VIEWS …..
… In case you were wondering… ‘Tales from the Far Side of Fifty,’ was a runaway hit. Completely sold out, with an SRO crowd at the Recital Hall in Balboa Park , men and women alike were moved to tears. These excellently written, funny and poignant, sometimes tragic stories by older women (age 58-87) touched everyone, young and old. There will very likely be a reprise, and the show may go on the road. If you know of a group or venue that might benefit from these inspiring stories (judging from the audience response, that’s just about everyone), write firstname.lastname@example.org.
… The 7th annual BRAVO San Diego was a whole different animal from the early days. There were as many performers (1600 according to the press release), representing 83 performing groups. But ‘the biggies’ were nowhere to be found: not the Opera, the Symphony, La Jolla Playhouse or the Old Globe. Most were much smaller companies, many that I’d never heard of. And that seems to have attracted a very different crowd. As for the comestibles, either the crowd was smaller or the logistics were better, but food was easy to obtain, and quite varied and tasty (seared ahi made many appearances; 75 local restaurants and wineries were represented). Some highlights of the performances I caught: Eveoke Dance Theatre and its snippets of international hip hop, created and performed by the talented Anthony Rodriguez (and others); Mojalet’s evocative modern dance; ab-fab jazz/blues singer Sweet Baby Jai, accompanied by the incomparable piano stylist, Todd Schroeder; and a hilarious scene from Moxie Theatre’s upcoming Pulp!, featuring the great-looking Moxie-gals ( JoAnne Glover, Liv Kellgren, Jennifer Eve Kraus) under the guidance of artistic director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. Super stuff!
… Don’t miss the 90-minute concert version of the marvelous SDSU production of A Man of No Importance, created by the terrific team that gave us Ragtime (Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, Terrence McNally). The touching chamber musical, set in 1960s Dublin , won the 2003 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical, and the MFA students, under the direction of Rick Simas, do a bangup job with it. December 6 and 7 at Diversionary Theatre (619-220-6830). Proceeds benefit both Diversionary Theatre and the SDSU Musical Theatre program.
… A new musical comedy just opened at the historic Ramona Mainstage Theatre. Pete ‘n’ Keely is produced and directed by the same team that brought Route 66 to Ramona earlier this year: Brian Wells directs, David Brannen choreographs and Don LeMaster is musical director. The show stars this summer’s swashbuckling Pirate King, Randall Dodge, and the Queen of Tomfoolery, Kristen Mengelkoch . Originally produced Off Broadway in 2000, the show features new songs and standards, harmonized by an inharmonious, reunited ’60s singing duo reminiscent of Steve and Edie or Sonny and Cher . Through January 22; 760-789-7008; www.ramonatheatre.com .
…The incomparable Guillermo Gomez- Peña , internationally acclaimed, highly politicized cross-cultural artist/writer/performer/satirist, will present his Mexterminator vs. the Global Predator at St. Cecilia’s Playhouse, courtesy of Sushi Performance and Visual Art, on December 2 and 3 at 8pm. Revisiting what he calls the ’open wound’ that is the San Diego/Tijuana border, Gomez- Peña explores fear of immigration, the digital divide, censorship, interracial sexuality and the side effects of globalization and the War on Terror in the US Latino community ; 619-235-8466, www.sushiart.org
And don’t forget:
…A Shakespeare benefit for North Coast Repertory Theatre, featuring excerpts from Julius Caesar, Romeo & Juliet, Othello, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream…presented by a cast of San Diego allstars : Priscilla Allen, Richard Baird, Kandis Chappell, David Ellenstein, Jonathan McMurtry and Rosina Reynolds. Monday, November 28 at 7:30pm. $35. 1-888-776-NCRT.
…Celebrate the season with New Village Arts….at an exclusive reading of Conor McPherson’s Dublin Carol, featuring Ron Choularton, Fran Gercke and Kristianne Kurner. Hors d’oeuvres and dancing ( ZannaJazz ) precede the production, and dessert/Irish tea follows, served by some of NVA’s favorite actors: JoAnne Glover, Brandon Walker, Grace Delaney, Jessica John, Jack Missett, Dana Case, Sandra Ellis-Troy and Pat Moran. Thursday, December 15, 6:30-10:30pm. $50; 760-433-3245.
… Common Ground Theatre, directed by UCSD Professor Emeritus Floyd Gaffney, presents its holiday favorite, Black Nativity, a gospel song-play written in 1961 by Langston Hughes. November 25-6 at St. Paul ’s Cathedral (619-298-7261) and December 1-18 at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza .
… The Poor Players readings of: the San Diego premiere of Dakin Matthews’ adaptation of King Henry VI Parts 1-3 (Monday, December 5 and Monday December 12 at 7pm at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pt. Loma) and King Richard III (Monday, December 19, 7pm at North Coast Repertory Theatre), featuring Jonathan McMurtry and Richard Baird (probably his last San Diego performance before he departs for the Ashland Shakespeare Festival). $10 donation. Reserve at email@example.com or 619-255-1401.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!‘ (i.e., Critic’s Picks );
(For full text of all past reviews, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
“Arms and the Man” – comic and satiric, in just the right measure. Delightful cast, wonderfully directed and designed (by third-year MFA students Joseph Ward and Jedediah Ike)
At the new Potiker Theatre on the campus of UCSD; through Nov. 26
“The Little Foxes” – deliciously vicious play, stunning production; beautifully designed, directed, lit and acted – by a killer cast.
At Cygnet Theatre, through December 18.
“ Adam Baum and the Jew Movie” – provocative title, little-known story. Thinly-veiled tale of Sam Goldwyn (and other early Hollywood moguls – all Eastern European Jewish immigrants who were so eager to assimilate they turned against everything they knew and loved). Wonderfully nuanced performance by Ralph Elias.
At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through December 4.
“A Bright Room Called Day” – provocative, disturbing, funny, prescient play in a gorgeous ensemble production.
At Diversionary Theatre, through December 4.
“Too Old for the Chorus, But Not Too Old To Be a Star” – if you haven’t had your fill of menopausal musicals, this is great for a date (the guys remind us it’s called MENopause ). Excellent performances , some cute/clever bits and songs.
At The Theatre in Old Town , through January 1.
Work off your Bird-Day bloat – at the theater!
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.