- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 22, 2002

''Wall Street's" Gordon Gekko probably did not have the Hubbard clan in mind when he said, "Greed is good."

The nouveau riche Southern family detailed in Lillian Hellman's play "The Little Foxes" gives greed a bad name. Grasping, plotting and shameless, they make the crowd from "Dallas" and "Dynasty" as loving as "The Osbournes."

The Hubbards are much like the clan from "The Duchess of Malfi," an earlier and excellent production at the Shakespeare Theatre.

Like the much put-upon Duchess, Regina Giddens (Elizabeth Ashley) is tormented by her two brothers, Ben (David Sabin) and Oscar (Jonathan Hadary). Unlike "The Duchess of Malfi," there is no incest angle. But the siblings are stiflingly close seemingly incapable of having a meal without all three present.

However, Regina gives as good as she gets. She uses the wealth and influence of her well-born and deathly ill husband, Horace (Keir Dullea), to trump her brothers and climb her way to the top socially.

"The Duchess of Malfi" was extravagant and deeply emotional, but "The Little Foxes" is merely a melodramatic hoot. Miss Hellman's play, loosely based upon her Alabama family, is meant to make us see the monsters in ourselves while watching the Hubbards plot and steal money from one another in an effort to close a deal with a Chicago businessman that is supposed to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. But director Doug Hughes has given us a production that is almost camp, with nearly every line delivered with a sneer that would do Snidely Whiplash proud.

Hugh Landwehr's opulent, turn-of-the-century set resembles an overstuffed funeral parlor (minus the coffin). But in a way, it is good that Regina's drawing room has so much decor in it, since the cast, for the most part, is doing its best to gnaw on every stick of scenery.

Leading the hungry pack is Miss Ashley as Regina, a grandiose figure who by all rights should be out in the world plotting the overthrow of some social order instead of feuding with her brothers in a two-bit Alabama town. Miss Ashley is having a deliriously good time playing Regina, and the audience catches some of her enthusiasm. Using her natural Southern accent for all its worth, Miss Ashley wrings every bit of malice and syrup out of every line. Her performance is so extravagant and fun you wind up thinking that she deserves to perform in a stadium like all the other great divas.

Miss Ashley's brio is matched by Mr. Sabin as brother Ben, a genial fellow whose over-the-top Southern accent is heavy with honeyed menace. He and Regina obviously enjoy fighting for domination, which is not the case with brother Oscar, played with petulance and nervousness by Mr. Hadary. Oscar's response to his siblings' machinations is to hunt and shoot everything in sight, and Mr. Hadary has given him the rabbity quality of his quarry.

Some performances ground the production. The character of Birdie, Oscar's troubled wife, could be a parody beyond "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" But Nancy Robinette gives the role a doomed elegance. Mr. Dullea also accomplishes this as Horace, another relic of an age of gentility and integrity.

Nicole Lowrance is terrific as Alexandra, Regina's teen-age daughter, who combines her mother's steely ambition with her father's kindness and fairness.

As long as you relax into the overwrought quality of the show, you can have a walloping good time. Just don't expect anything deeper than laughs at Miss Hellman's expense.



**1/2

WHAT: "The Little Foxes"

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; and noon July 24. Through July 28

WHERE: The Shakespeare Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW

TICKETS: $14.50 to $63

PHONE: 202/547-1122

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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