Elizabeth Taylor effective in Lillian Hellman's 'Little Foxes'

The Little Foxes Starring Elizabeth Taylor. Drama by Lillian Hellman. Directed by Austin Pendleton. In her theatrical debut, one of Hollywood's legendary glamour ladies bestows her considerable presence, power, and acting acumen upon one of contemporary American drama's prize villainesses. With Elizabeth Taylor starring as the vixenish Regina Giddens, "The Little Foxes" luxuriates in a kind of timeless grandeur well suited to Lillian Hellman's 1939 play.

It is not a performance in any great depth. But then neither is the character of Regina herself. What Miss Taylor does is to endow the part with her particular aura. This Regina is a wickedly handsome predator.

Miss Hellman's widely praised period play centers on the efforts of Regina and her two equally grasping brothers to bring a textile mill to the small Southern town where they already wield considerable economic power. Unfortunately for their plans, Regina has not yet been able to produce her promised share of the capitalization. When her seriously ill husband, Horace, returns from being hospitalized in Baltimore, he makes it clear that the money will bot be forthcoming.

"The Little Foxes" thereafter moves deliberately through Miss Hellman's carefully crafted plot as the greedy Hubbards scheme and use blackmail against one another. Through the abused and pitifully tippling Birdie Hubbard (Maureen Stapleton), the audience learns how Oscar married her to lay his hands on the plantation of her happy girlhoold memories. Miss Stapleton is poignant and quietly touching in this crucial role.

Because of Miss Taylor's presence "The Little Foxes" is already a financial success, being virtually sold out for its initial 10-week run. The production's artistic merits are more questionable. Judging by the Austin Pendleton has treated what now seems like an old-fashioned melodrama on its own rather obvious terms. The staging appears unnecessarily heavy-handed. As represented at the Martin Beck Theater, the brothers Oscar and Ben and the miserable Leo -- Joe Ponazecki, Anthony Zerbe, and Dennis Christopher -- behave more like loutish locals than small-town slickers with some of the veneer that money can buy.

The reliable Tom Aldredge creates an effective portrait of the dying Horace Giddens, who nevertheless seizes the opportunity to urge the Giddenses' young daughter (Ann Talman) to make her escape from the tribe of grasping relatives. Novella Nelson and Joe Seneca are deferential but self-assured as a pair of household servants whose loyalty can be counted on in a crisis.

Andrew Jackness has designed an expansive, red-papered, turn-of-the-century living room -- rather grand in an oppressive sort of way --theatrically useful stair-cases and upper landings. Miss Hellman's stage directions specify: "The furniture is expensive, but it reflects no particular taste." In some respects, the description might apply to the present revival. Besides Mr. Jackness, the designers were Florence Klotz (costumes), Paul Gallo (lighting), and Patrick D. Moreton (hairdos).

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