KPBS AIRDATE: November 25, 2005
Two time-tested classics; two terrific productions. You might think that a 66 year old drama and a 110 year-old comedy would be shopworn and dusty. But “The Little Foxes” and “Arms and the Man” have a great deal of relevance today. One’s about insatiable greed and lust for power. The other’s about personal and political hypocrisy and the idealization of war. Could there be anything more timely?
When George Bernard Shaw wrote “Arms and the Man” in 1894, it established him as one of the greatest wits in London. The comedy is set in Bulgaria, 1885, in the home of a pretentious bourgeois family. Young Raina is enamored of the romance of combat and ‘a higher love.’ But after her bedroom becomes host to a Swiss mercenary, reluctantly fighting for her country’s enemy, the Serbs, she rethinks her philosophies — and her engagement to a ridiculously bombastic Bulgarian officer.
UCSD’s wonderfully droll production is beautifully designed by Jedediah Ike and marvelously directed by Joseph Ward. Remember those names; both will be completing their MFAs soon, and you’re sure to be hearing from them again. The cast is a delight; without resorting to camp, they strike just the right notes of pomposity, veracity and absurdity. Rebecca Kaasa is thoroughly enchanting as Raina, and as the two men in her life, the ludicrous Sergius and sensible Bluntschli, Scott Drummond and Ryan McCarthy are splendid. With war on everybody’s minds, a little humor goes a long way.
There’s a bit of humor in Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” but it’s of the bitterest kind. Hellman was definitely dipping her poison pen in acid when she wrote this caustic tale of second generation carpetbaggers in a Southern town at the turn of the last century. This 1939 drama, some might say melodrama, is a seething account of intra-family treachery and avarice. In pursuing an unsavory business deal, the Hubbard family sibs – two brothers and their cutthroat sister — play ever-nastier tricks, each trying to out-fox the others. This malevolent clan could be seen as a chillingly dark microcosm of American free enterprise – a dog-eat-dog world of profit uber alles, survival of the vilest.
Cygnet Theatre has mounted a deliciously vicious production. Artistic director Sean Murray has designed one of his most beautiful and detailed sets, and his cast is sublime. Rosina Reynolds brings more color and nuance to the role of monstrous Regina than Bette Davis did in the film. Glynn Bedington is superb as Birdie, the fragile, faded Southern belle. Tom Stephenson is slick, casually cruel sib, Tim West his brutish brother. Michael Harvey and Rachael Van Wormer provide ballast as the only mildly admirable characters in the play, though their passivity has encouraged the malicious family machinations.
So. What’s it gonna be? Satire or cynicism? Choose your dramatic weapon.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.