The Little Foxes: A Letter to the Actors
Dear Members of the Company,
The Little Foxes is a fine example of a play filled with realistic drama. Set in a small town in the Deep South in the spring of 1900, it skillfully brings out the concepts of social degradation and moral decay. Birdie’s statement in act three, “Well, there are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it… then there are those people who stand around and watch them eat it” clearly gives the audience the whole essence of the play (Hellman, 1939). The Hubbard family are these people who devour the earth and everything in it. Their greed has no limits and they would do all kinds of despicable acts to satisfy their greed. This fact is portrayed by the fact that Oscar only married sweet Birdie so as to acquire her aristocratic family’s plantation. Regina on the other hand only married Horace for his money since her father left all his money to his two sons and none to her. The entire premise of the play is that the three siblings, Regina, Ben and Oscar, plan to partner with Marshall who is a Chicago businessman, in building a cotton factory. Marshall has agreed to raise forty nine percent of the capital (four hundred thousand dollars) while the three siblings have agreed to raise the remaining fifty one percent (two hundred and twenty five thousand dollars) while promising Marshall low labor wages and no strikes from the workers. Ben plans to fulfill these promises by playing the workers against each other. Regina, having no money, plans to get her share of the capital from her husband Horace. Ultimately, The Hubbard family seems to be hell bent on acquiring money even at the cost of their familial relations like stealing money from Horace’s safety deposit box.
In a notebook that Hellman wrote background notes including plot lines and detailed character descriptions, she describes Ben as “ rather jolly and far less solemn that his siblings and far more dangerous than them” (New York Herald Tribune, 1939). I agree with Hellman that Ben is quite dangerous, however, I think that Regina is the most dangerous of them all. She is manipulative, devious, and has an unquenchable greed for money. Towards the end of the play, Regina and Horace get into an argument and in the course of this argument they go over their troubled past. It is at this point that Regina reveals that she has never cared about Horace but only married him for his money. She goes ahead to reveal to him that she has always known that he would die before her. It is at this juncture that Horace has heart failure and tries to reach for his medicine but the bottle slips and breaks. Regina does nothing to assist him and watches sadistically as he struggles to make his way up the stairs while calling out for help. Once he is completely unconscious, Regina then calls for the helps to carry him upstairs. From this scene, the audience is presented with the deep level of Regina’s cruelty and greed for money since she meant to kill Horace in order to negotiate a better deal with her brothers.
The power of the play comes from its timeless message, which is that greed never goes out of fashion. The Little Foxes is like a new play, its message is so relatable for today than when it was first written (Williamson, 2006). Looking at the state of the world today this cannot be further from the truth. People would do unspeakably immoral actions to satisfy their greed. Although I have come across many reviewers comments concluding that the play is a plot-driven drama, I believe this power of the play message comes from the characters personalities. Therefore, it is more character-driven. Specifically, Ben, Oscar and most importantly Regina’s character bring out this message beautifully. All the decisions that these three siblings have made throughout their lives have been governed by their greed for more money. They even go as far as threatening, manipulating and double-crossing each other. At the beginning, Ben and Regina manipulate Oscar into giving up part of his profit share in favor of Regina by promising him Regina’s daughter, Alexandra’s hand in marriage to Oscar’s son Leo. Ben and Oscar, after seeing that Regina has failed to acquire her share of the money from her husband, they cut her off and steal her husband’s money instead. After discovering their deception Regina incapacitates her husband and uses this newly acquired information to blackmail them (by threatening to send them to jail for theft) into giving her seventy five percent of the profits.
Perhaps the other most powerful thing of the play is the audience connection to the character. The audience should be able to connect to the characters and travel through the many highs and lows of the play as well as be able to travel back to the characters past with them and get a glimpse of their lives up to this point. For this to be a reality, as we go into production, we must consider ways of bringing characters into life in such a way that the audience will emotionally connect to them. For Alexandra, the audience should clearly see her high class innocence and connect with her high morality as the only character willing to take a stand against the little foxes and who serve as the heroine of the play. Birdies on the hand should inspire sympathy from the audience as a weak, helpless aristocratic woman stuck in a loveless and abusive marriage with no way out. Most importantly, the audience should not feel disconnected to the Hubbard siblings due to their greed and immoral ways. However, the production should be such that to portray Hellman’s vision of the audience recognizing a piece of themselves in the money-dominated Hubbard family and not to simply see them as villains but as retable people too (Hellman, 1973). All in all, the audience should be able to sit back and think. “I know an Alexandra, I know of a birdie in my life and even a Ben or a Regina.” Simply put, the audience should be able to relate to the characters and reflect on the people in their lives with the same characteristics. This would be the most challenging and most important part to production, but we must strive to bring it to life in the best possible way.
With those few remarks, members of the company, I would like to urge you to take all these things into consideration while working on the play. Let us aim to achieve Hellman’s vision and make an impact with this production.
Cited in New York Herald Tribune. Sept.24, 1939, p.10
Hellman Lillian. (1939). The Little Foxes. New York, Viking Press.
Hellman Lillian. (1973). Pentimento: A Book of Portraits. New York: Signet.
Williamson Laird. (2006). Remarks by Director of the production of The Little Foxes. Retrieved from http://www.act-sf.org/content/dam/act/education_department/words_on_plays/The%20Little%20Foxes%20Words%20on%20Plays%20(2006).pdf