In 1939, Lillian Hellman wrote the play, “The Little Foxes,” set in the South in 1900. Its lead character, Regina Hubbard Giddens has a mind, and an agenda, of her own. The role’s been invented and reinvented on stage by Tallulah Bankhead and Elizabeth Taylor, and onscreen by Bette Davis.
A new revival is at the Pasadena Playhouse. KPCC’s Steve Julian recently met with today’s Regina, Kelly McGillis. You might remember her from the movie Top Gun; and he also talks with director Damaso Rodriguez.
Damaso Rodriguez: When I read this, I was shocked by how relevant it was. At the time, I thought it was about oil because it was over a year ago and gas prices were so high, and I thought it was about that. Then the economy fell through and we had Bernie Madoff and various scandals, and I said to myself, "Oh my gosh, this play is about the economy and corporate greed."
And later, I found when Obama was elected president, the commentary in the play about the relationships between the black characters and the white characters and the history of slavery, and the politics of power, I just felt it became relevant in a whole new way, because these characters couldn’t have predicted in this world just 109 years after this play was set that we’d have an African-American president.
Steve Julian: It’s hard to gauge how loudly audiences laughed in 1939, but Rodriguez finds "The Little Foxes to be," despite some churlish behavior, rather funny.
Rodriguez: I shouldn’t have been surprised because Hellman found the Hubbards, the family in "The Little Foxes," to be comic villains. And it’s amazing to hear the audience laugh at this very serious play about greed.
Julian: Kelly McGillis, as Regina Hubbard Giddens, counts on that laughter.
Kelly McGillis: I tend to do, which is probably not a healthy thing to do, is, when audiences are really, really quiet, I tend to have this little critic standing outside me saying, "Hmm, am I not talking loudly enough? Am I moving too much? Am I not focused enough? What am I doing?" But, yeah, I think they’re all appreciative. It’s a difficult play because it is very wordy and it is very quick, so it demands an audience to really pay attention.
Julian: Kelly, why do you think this play works today?
McGillis: Oh my gosh, I don’t really know, to tell you the God’s honest truth. I think because some of the themes in the play are timeless. Greed. Power. Equality on a lot of different levels. I think on some levels, from my perspective, it’s a feminist play. I think those are all things that are relevant today.
Rodriguez: Kelly mentions that she views this as a feminist play. That is one of the biggest changes in our production, is that, we didn’t view Regina as a monster as she has often been described. And, based on our research, we know that Hellman wanted perhaps wanted Regina to be not so black and white.
And so we’ve looked at this world in which, it’s a male dominated society, her character literally does not have the freedom to get out and go into the world and get what she wants, and so we took that seriously. We took the idea the relationship with her daughter is a real one, and that a mother has love for her child. I think that’s not necessarily in other interpretations of the play.
Julian: I want to go back to feminism and how feminism has affected you in your life and what relationship you draw on that to this play.
McGillis: Hmmm, that’s a very big question. I think I am the end result of – I mean, I have reaped the results of a lot of the feminist movement without having participated in a lot of it because of my age. That being said, I don’t think that it is still equal in all things.
And I still think that we live in a male-dominated culture. You know, but I don’t know. My, hmm... that’s a really hard question because there’s a lot of things pro and con in that, but I would say that would be my simple answer.
Julian: In February, Kelly McGillis admitted to a reporter that she is, in her words, "done with men," and is a lesbian. She told me that the news stayed quiet, until she arrived in Pasadena in May. Why did the news hit then?
McGillis: I have no clue. I have no idea. And really, it just floors me because I think, really, who should care? And is it anybody else’s business, really? The only "event" that happened was that I decided not to lie, or avoid a question.
Most of the time in my life I’ve just said "I don’t care to answer that" or "That’s none of your business" or "That really isn’t germane to what we’re discussing." And I just decided to step up and live in my truth. That’s it.
Julian: Does that give you a newfound sense of freedom, and does that influence your acting?
McGillis: I don’t know. I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I think my sense of personal freedom came when I was really able to be honest with myself because that was a really long and difficult journey for me. Publicly, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Maybe it’s because I’m 50. Maybe I finally grew up. I just don’t give a hoot of what other people think of me anymore.
Julian: The same can be said for Regina Hubbard Giddens with one exception. It’s the loss of her daughter Zan’s love and respect that brings Regina down in “The Little Foxes.” It runs through Sunday at the Pasadena Playhouse.