It’s a 1939 play set in 1900, but Tracy Michelle Arnold insists “The Little Foxes” is still timely.
“I think it’s very relevant,” she said. “These are people who have a lot of money, and the whole plot is about them trying to make a whole lot more. Mendacity rules the day in this family. They want more, more, more, more, more.”
It should be immediately obvious to anyone who’s paying attention why that’s relevant.
Arnold is playing Regina in the upcoming Asolo Repertory Theatre production of “The Little Foxes,” which opens Friday at the Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts in Sarasota.
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Regina — the characters played by Bette Davis in the film version of “The Little Foxes,” and by Tallullah Bankhead in the original Broadway production — is the only female sibling of the Hubbard family. It’s in the era in which women still wore corsets, so Regina, Arnold said, is being restrained physically, mentally and emotionally.
She doesn’t have the right to vote, she doesn’t have the right to have a job, but she has a mind that’s equal to that of her brothers.
Tracy Michelle Arnold, Regina in “The Little Foxes”
“She doesn’t have the right to vote, she doesn’t have the right to have a job, but she has a mind that’s equal to that of her brothers,” Arnold said.
Before the action of the play begins, Regina had premarital sex with a soldier, scandalous behavior that could damage the family business. The brothers have forced her to marry a wealthy man named Giddens to try to salvage the family’s reputation.
Besides those overt plot elements that occur before the play’s narrative, the cast’s performances are informed by unspoken developments.
Director Frank Galati had the cast read aloud “Another Part of the Forest,” the play Hellman wrote in 1946 that tells the back story of the Hubbard family. The Hubbard family are Southerners, and we learn in the prequel that, during the Civil War, the patriarch of the Hubbard family got rich by sneaking into the North and buying salt, and selling it to Southerners at exorbitant prices. He also helped Union soldiers ambush a group of Confederate soldiers, which led to a massacre.
And because Hellman was herself a Southern Jew, and the play is known to be somewhat autobiographical, Galati and the cast decided that the Hubbards’ legacy, for this production, includes that they are Jewish.
None of that will be obvious to the audience, but it all helped enrich the actors’ performances, Arnold said.
Arnold is based at American Players Theatre in Wisconsin, and this is her first role with Asolo Rep. She’s loving the company, Florida’s winter weather and working with Galati, the Tony Award-winning playwright who directs often for Asolo Rep.
“It’s really a dream,” she said. “His respect for human beings is so obvious. He has this combination of wisdom and wonder. He observes every nuance an actor brings to a role and reacts to it as if he’s never seen it before. Working with him is a collaboration, but the show is 100 percent his.”
Details: March 17-April 15 (in repertory), Mertz Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m., 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $14-$96. 941-351-8000, asolorep.org.