The Little Foxes

Review by Tulis McCall
(16 Sep 2010)

Why does everything Ivo van Hove directs make my face hurt? And why is the theatre community so ga-ga over him? I don't get it. As far as I can tell, this Emperor has no clothes.

That being said, I think it is probably great sport to be in one of his plays. It must be, because his actors keep returning. The great sport is the fact that instead of playing an action or an emotion - they execute the literal action. As with the other van Hove productions, these actors deserve battle pay. They carry out van Hove's vision with precision and guts. Want to punch your spouse? Fab. Want to throw your sister against the wall? Be my guest. Want to masturbate in front of your husband? You go, girl.

The result is that the layers of story that the author has constructed pretty much collapse in on themselves. We are deprived as an audience. When we want to savor a scene, we are handed raw meat and a knife. Wine? Try this vinegar. There is no mystery, no myth, no inducement to enter into the tale. We are never let in. Van Hove makes his actors bring the contents of the mansion out and strew them on the lawn. What we thought was an invitation to dinner becomes a yard sale.

In this production of The Little Foxes these excellent actors perform on a set made of purple velvet. It is a box with chandeliers. Inside the box is another with a staircase that leads one to believe there is another smaller box at the top. There are no chairs, so actors sit or roll on the floor. There is a tiny piano stage right. No one ever plays it. There are no Southern accents, although this takes place in Alabama. There is no visual reference to the fact that the time is 1900, which is why, when one of the characters refers to the War in which her father served, we have no idea it was the Civil War. We have no guides, just words.

Hellman created the Hubbards, who are a nasty bit of business as families go. Each has a terminal case of specialness, and its symptoms vary from person to person. One wants to live in the past. Another wants to blow town big time. Another wants to climb high on the social ladder and defecate on anyone within reach. When a deal is made with a visiting investor, two brothers Ben (Marton Csokas) and Oscar (Thomas Jay Ryan) have their money ready to throw in the pot. The only one missing is their brother-in-law, Horace (Christopher Evan Welch) who is "away" in the hospital. He has not responded to their requests for money, and now it is time to break the news to their sister Regina (Elizabeth Marvel) that unless Horace can put his share on the table they will look elsewhere for a partner, and Regina will get nothing. Remember this is 1900 when women cannot vote and have no control over their own money once they marry - another factoid that never registers in this production. Regina, for the next 90 minutes or so, is on a tear to get her husband back home, the funds secured and her future guaranteed.

Of course this is Hellman, so none of the above happens. In Hellman's detailed telling the lives we watch come unglued and unhinged. The lengths to which determination and revenge will drive a person are sewn into the lining of this story and metered out in tiny spoonfuls.

But in the hands of van Hove, intrigue and mystery are tossed out with the bathwater, and we are left watching a car wreck in slow motion when Hellman intended us to see a fencing match with foils dipped in poison. What began as study in the methods of a Black Widow Spider ends up delivering blunt force trauma to the onlookers.

There should be a disclaimer in the program.

(Tulis McCall)

"Despite its rough physicality, Mr. van Hove's art is ultimately static."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"Loud but low-impact revival."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"Thrilling, eye-opening production."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"The production lasts two hours without intermission, presumably to prevent audience members not inured to director's theater from running to safety."
John Simon for Bloomberg

"The whole thing came off as an acting exercise that would probably be very helpful somewhere around the middle of rehearsals."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

"It's an all-out portrait of pure wickedness, and van Hove nails it perfectly."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"has been given savage new life by Elizabeth Marvel in a bold, iconoclastic revival."
David Cote for Time Out New York

"For all of this blatant stylization, however, van Hove and his excellent actors discover no fresh nuances to Hellman's scathing look at a grasping tribe of predators."
Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey

"The ugly emotions so nakedly exposed by the directorial demolition job reveal a timeliness that is downright terrifying."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record- Time Out New York - Newsroom Jersey - Variety

Originally published on

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