lilian hellman


May 8, 1997

THE LITTLE FOXES is a three act drama by Lillian Hellman.  The title is taken from the Bible passage Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.“  Set in a small town in Alabamain 1900, it focuses on the struggle for control of a family business.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1939 starring Tallulah Bankhead.  It was revived on Broadway in 1967 starring Anne Bancroft, again in 1981 starring Elizabeth Taylor, and most recently in 1997 (see below).  

Hellman wrote the screenplay for a 1941 film version starring Bette Davis. In 1949, the play was adapted for an opera entitled Regina by Marc Blitzstein.

In 1946, Hellman wrote Another Part of the Forest, a prequel chronicling the roots of the Hubbard family featured in THE LITTLE FOXES.  

THE LITTLE FOXES opened at Lincoln Center Theatre’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre on April 3, 1997 playing for 57 regular performances and 27 previews.  Directed by Jack O'Brien, it starred Stockard Channing (Regina), Frances Conroy (Birdie), Brian Kerwin (Oscar), Brian Murray (Ben), Frederick Weller (Leo), Jennifer Dundas (Alexandra), Richard E. Council (Marshall), and Kenneth Welsh (Horace).  The production received Tony Award nominations for Murray and scenic design.  Murray won a Drama Desk Award.  

I really love this play, having seen it in community theatre in the 1970s and the film shortly afterwards. As much as I adore Stockard Channing, I have to agree with the critics that this was not her role. She had come off a string of hits for LCT, including The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, so it was probably thought she could do no wrong.  And while there was nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with her performance, her known comic vulnerability undercut Regina’s cold-blooded greed.  

Although most other characters pale in Regina’s shadow, Frances Conroy was quite good as the frail, alcoholic Birdie.  Conroy is never less than interesting on stage or screen.  She would follow this performance with LCT’s Ring Round the Moon. Brian Murray was also an LCT favorite, having just been seen in Racing Demon, and following up THE LITTLE FOXES with Twelfth Night. This somewhat anemic production cannot be blamed on Channing alone. Director Jack O'Brien has to take some responsibility.  He returned to LCT after Two Shakespearean Actors in 1992.  

THE LITTLE FOXES rates 2 Paper Moons out of 5