Thursday, April 27, 2017

Broadway Review—Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon in “The Little Foxes”

The Little Foxes
Written by Lillian Hellman; directed by Daniel Sullivan
Opened April 19, 2017
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street

Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney in The Little Foxes (photo: Joan Marcus)

Lillian Hellman’s Southern Gothic melodrama The Little Foxes has two juicy female roles—malevolent matriarch Regina Giddens and her alcoholic sister-in-law Birdie Hubbard—so it’s not surprising that, for the current Broadway revival, stars Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon take turns performing each.

I saw the play with Nixon as Regina and Linney as Birdie, and I’m glad I did. Linney’s warmth and good humor serve her in good stead as the pathetic but sympathetic Birdie, a victim of the family she foolishly married into. Her husband Oscar (Darren Goldstein) constantly berates her and her sister-in-law Regina and brother-in-law Ben (Michael McKean) all but ignore her. Her relationship with her beloved niece, 17-year-old Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini), is the only honest one in the family.

Linney’s persuasive performance is capped by a lovely scene when Birdie downs elderberry wine while reminiscing about the old days with Regina’s sickly husband Horace (Richard Thomas) and Alexandra. While speaking, Linney laughs and laughs, seemingly both as Birdie and as a comment on the absurdity of the situation, enveloping costars Thomas and Carpanini with her good vibes and creating an utterly natural onstage moment.

Nixon’s sharp-edged Regina is a schemer who knows what she wants and how to get it, whether keeping Horace as sick as possible, keeping daughter Alexandra under her thumb or outsmarting her brothers Ben and Oscar when it comes to the family fortune.

Our lead actresses flesh out these opposing characters appositely, and Daniel Sullivan’s always incisive direction surrounds them with terrific support: Thomas’ amusedly weary Horace; Michael McKean’s smiling while backstabbing Ben; Darren Goldstein’s clueless but cruel Oscar; and Carpanini’s affecting Alex.

The Little Foxes plays best as an old-fashioned—but gleefully nasty—soap opera; that it provides such luxurious roles for two talented actresses might be its signal virtue.

The Little Foxes
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street

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