Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Little Foxes


Here are three words guaranteed to strike fear and terror into the hearts of any theatrical purist who dislikes the avant-garde: Ivo-van-Hove.

Hove, a notorious Flemish director, is best known in New York for his artsy and deconstructed productions of classics such as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Hedda Gabler” and “The Misanthrope” at New York Theatre Workshop.

His latest target (or victim, depending on one’s point of view) is Lillian Hellman’s “The Little Foxes,” a melodramatic potboiler about a greedy southern family in 1900 determined to cheat each other out of profits from a cotton mill. The play is best known for its 1941 film version with Bette Davis.

As expected, Hove has done away with any realistic qualities like southern accents and period costumes. He even takes out the play’s intermission.

The cast performs in contemporary business attire on an empty stage on which the walls and floor are covered with posh purple carpeting. A flat screen television is set atop a staircase, on which offstage characters are silently observed.

His stripped-down, space-age approach surprisingly suits the play, which is at heart a simple thriller. A background score of creepy electronic music is even employed. It is often stimulating, but too self-conscious and inappropriately strange to be entirely convincing.

The actors, while violently passionate, are so over-the-top that their performances become grossly excessive. Even the characteristically fierce Elizabeth Marvel, in the plum role of the villainous and determined Regina, lacks spark and individuality.

The production’s saving grace remains the play itself, which is strong enough to survive Hove’s signature handiwork and still provide action-packed, exciting entertainment.

“The Little Foxes” plays at New York Theatre Workshop through October 31.
49 E. 4th St., 212-279-4200, nytw.org.

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