Lillian Hellman’s riveting 1939 drama The Little Foxes excellently launches the Dayton Theatre Guild’s 2018-2019 season.
Set in the Alabama spring of 1900, this compelling, three-act saga – methodically directed by Kathy Mola, beautifully costumed by Carol Finley, and attractively designed by Chris Harmon – concerns greed spinning out of control among a dysfunctional, power-hungry family. Brothers Oscar and Benjamin Hubbard (Saul Caplan and Dave Nickel, respectively) along with their sister Regina Giddens (Cheryl Mellen) are excited to invest in a new cotton mill, but Regina can’t sign on because her late father didn’t see fit to leave her on equal financial footing with them. As so, she turns to her sickly husband Horace (Don Campbell) for approval, but he has other ideas in mind. Still, Regina has the last laugh in a shockingly disgraceful display of betrayal and revenge opening the door to a future likely to leave her abandoned, regretful and paranoid despite her bank account.
Mola skillfully handles the play’s juicy melodrama, coaxing performances from her cohesive cast that are grounded rather than overdone. Caplan (in a refreshing departure from comedic roles) and Nickel (very impressive) are terrifically devious cohorts.
In particular, Nickel wonderfully juggles Benjamin’s smooth charisma and furious rage. Mellen dynamically thrives in Act 3 as Regina’s manipulative instincts hit overdrive, but I would’ve liked to have seen the same kind of ferocity applied from her first entrance. Campbell, in one of his finest roles, offers a superb showdown with Mellen late in Act 2 when Horace finally realizes the scope of Regina’s ambition. As Regina’s fragile, alcoholic sister-in-law Birdie Hubbard, Oscar’s wife, the outstanding Libby Holley Scancarello exceptionally explores Birdie’s inability to break free from the monsters surrounding, suffocating and destroying her. She fills the overlooked, ostracized, battered, and abused character with expressive angst throughout, specifically her captivating monologue reflecting on the first time Birdie met Oscar, a day that led to her dreadful unhappiness for the next 22 years. By and large, Scancarello is just as marvelous and vital here as she was as Mrs. Sylvia Fowler in the Dayton Playhouse’s 2017 production of The Women.
In addition, Maximillian Santucci shines as Oscar and Birdie’s hopelessly inept and immature son Leo, Hannah Stickel supplies gentle innocence and acute perceptiveness as Regina and Horace’s daughter Alexandra, Jeff Sams effortlessly charms while hobnobbing in a den of deceivers as Chicago industrialist William Marshall, and Gail Andrews Turner and Steve Easterling are fittingly sharp as Regina and Horace’s dutiful servants Addie and Cal. Turner notably contributes to an engaging discussion at the top of Act 3 focusing on the play’s friendlier characters taking a respite from familial squabbles and wickedness.
Without question, The Little Foxes remains a relevant cautionary tale of pursuing the American Dream with backbiting, destructive intentions. God bless the U.S.A.
The Little Foxes continues through Sept. 2 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. The play is performed in three acts running 40 minutes each with two intermissions. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $13 for students. For more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit daytontheatreguild.org.