Walking into the Thompson Theatre at the University of Delaware, if you haven’t before, is worth the price of admission by itself. A gorgeous, enormous theatre greets you with a vivid red curtain, and the space speaks of infinite possibility. Lillian Hellman’s THE LITTLE FOXES, presented by the Resident Ensemble Players (REP) gives the opportunity to experience such a space as it was meant to be.
THE LITTLE FOXES comes from a classic era of American theatre, contemporary with Tennessee Williams, and just preceding Arthur Miller. As such, it is grand theatrical realism, with ‘fourth wall’ acting, realistic scenery and lighting, and players rarely acknowledging the audience. Such performances still fill the collective American consciousness of how a play is ‘supposed’ to be, and while many theatre artists would challenge that point, it is irrefutable that this is where the American theatre came from. THE LITTLE FOXES is described by the REP as melodrama, personal play, and political story. It is all of these things and more.
For me, a play of this era tends to take about 20 minutes before I settle down and engage with the story, keep track of the actors, and so forth. THE LITTLE FOXES took about 5, timed almost exactly with the arrival of Elizabeth Helfin as Regina Giddens. Ms. Helfin’s performance was immediately engaging, without warm up or respite. This is HER play, and she’ll be damned if she has to share it with the rest of her family. That being said, all the Hubbards (Regina’s maiden name) are played with delightful fiendishness by Mic Matarrese, Michael Gotch, and Stephen Pelinski. Mr. Pelinski especially embraces his persona as the southern gentleman, even while constantly and effectively grappling for the upper hand on his relatives.
Carine Montibertrand gives an interesting performance, one I confess finding a bit forced and overplayed until a third act revelation brings all into perspective. Bravo for taking the leap! I did wonder whether to make a connection in the dual casting of Steve Tague as both William Marshall, an investor in the Hubbard’s plan to industrialize the south, and in their reluctant brother in law, Horace Giddens. While I eventually decided no specific connection was there to be made, the single instance of double casting became a bit of a distraction.
While it is difficult to say in any production as strong as this one that any particular artist outshone the rest, I must bestow my highest praise on the lighting design of Eileen Smitheimer, who also designed sound. Going for broke on naturalistic lighting can be incredibly difficult in the theatre, yet from directionality to color mixing to changes that weren’t noticed until long after they had completed (just as I find sitting at home for long hours with only natural lighting) I was thoroughly impressed. Scenic Designer Nick Embree and Costume Designer Andrea Barner both do excellent work and are to be commended as well.
In his notes, director Leslie Reidel clams to have done no more than bring the playwright and actors together into the same room. If this is the case, then truly Hellman’s presence was feelingly interpreted and lovingly embraced by the entire company. I have a feeling Mr. Reidel did slightly more and strongly advocated for Hellman, a sacred duty executed spot-on.
THE LITTLE FOXES
by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Leslie Reidel
September 29-October 15, 2011
Resident Ensemble Players
Thompson Theatre, Roselle Center for the Arts
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE, 19716