Saturday, February 18, 2023

Theatre: "The Little Foxes" at South Coast Repertory

The Little Foxes was presented by South Coast Repertory on the Segerstrom Stage in Costa Mesa.
The Little Foxes
Written by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Starring Shannon Cochran, Matthew Arkin, Marco Barricelli, Jamison Jones, Tessa Auberjonois, Jess Andrews, Hunter Spangler, Kaci Hamilton,
Zalen D. King, Lea Coco

Alabama, 1900. Ben and Oscar Hubbard stand to earn millions by funding an industrialized cotton mill. But first they'll need their calculating sister, Regina, to secure the seed money from her dying husband. When he refuses, the siblings stop at nothing to satisfy their own ambitions and keep the wealth in the family. It is Regina, however, with razor-sharp intellect and diabolical gentility, who is the most ruthless. Ferocious and funny, this classic takes an absorbing look at all sides of the American Dream. (From SCR website)

The film version of The Little Foxes starring Bette Davis is one of my all-time favorites, plus I have an audio copy of a performance from L.A. Theater Works that is fantastic, so I was really looking forward to seeing this live.

The first thing that happened was that the original date I had selected was canceled due to COVID-19 issues. When I got the cancellation email I thought I was out of luck as far as seeing this show. However, SCR quickly got me into another performance. I was impressed by how well they handled the situation.

This is the set. The picture doesn't really do it justice, but I loved it and had to get a shot of it. Notice the arch framing the stage is off-kilter? I loved that touch, showing that what goes on in this home is crooked and dysfunctional. There was also a lot of furniture, which was utilized heavily by the cast. This was my first time at Segerstrom and I was surprised that the theatre was a lot smaller than I was expecting, but while I had a great view from almost dead center, I don't think there's a bad seat in the place other than the extreme edges. Nice little theatre.

I was also intrigued by how the actress playing Regina Giddens would fare. In addition to Davis' legendary performance in the film, Tallulah Bankhead played the role during its original Broadway run. That's a lot of star-powered shoes to fill. Turns out Shannon Cochran's effortless performance was more than up the the standards of the role. She made a terrific Regina. Barricelli and Jones were spot-on as Ben and Oscar, and I enjoyed Spangler's portrayal of the slimy Leo. Another thing I noticed in retrospect is how well the cast handled the southern accents, so props to Dialect Coach Nathan Crocker.

The one glaring issue with the performance was that Arkin, who was a replacement in the role of Horace, apparently didn't have enough time to prepare and carried script pages on stage throughout the performance. Horace doesn't show up until part-way through the action, and is deathly ill and therefore not active, so it wasn't as noticeable as it could have been - in fact, at first I thought the character was carrying a newspaper - but as he began turning pages there was no hiding it, and really no attempt to. He was listed as a replacement (along with Hamilton filling in as Addie), which isn't unusual; I've seen that at shows in the past. But I'd never seen or even heard of an actor carrying script pages with him the entire time he's onstage. Apparently COVID has really affected the cast as discussed in this review, so I'm not unsympathetic. But it was hugely distracting. 
On top of that, for some reason there were two brief intermissions rather than a single, longer one, which I would have preferred. Each break took me out of the story. I would preferred not to have an intermission at all during this show. I know it's a little over two hours, but the time during the performance flew by. I'm not sure why they felt the need to interrupt it twice.

Overall it was a well-done show, and without the aforementioned issues, would have been great.

I was also pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get from L.A. to Costa Mesa for a weeknight performance (a straight shot down the 405 for me). I was anticipating a dreadful rush hour drive, but apparently I was going against traffic and the drive was not bad in L.A. and full-speed once I got behind the Orange Curtain. The drive home, without any traffic, went by in a flash. So even though it's way out in the OC, it's definitely worth doing again in the future.

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