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Dina Merrill, Actress, Philanthropist, Passes

Dina MerrillDina Merrill Hartley (born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton; December 29, 1923-May 22, 2017) was an American actress, businesswoman and philanthropist.  She died peacefully at home surrounded by her family.

Merrill was born in New York City on December 29, 1923. She was the only child of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, the Wall Street investment broker Edward Francis “E.F.” Hutton.

 She adopted the stage name Dina Merrill, borrowing from Charles E. Merrill, a distant relative and a famous stockbroker like her father. Merrill made her debut on the stage in the play The Mermaid Singing in 1945.  During World War II, she was part of the Moss Hart USO troupe and performed throughout the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Her stage career in regional and Broadway theatre took off after the war and continued through the 1990’s including the1983 Broadway revival of the Rodgers & Hart musical On Your Toes.

 Merrill appeared in more than 25 feature films including Desk Set (1957), Operation Petticoat, The Sundowners (1960),Butterfield 8 (1960), The Young Savages (1961), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father , and Robert Altman’s A Wedding (1978) andThe Player (1992).

 Merrill appeared on more than 100 television shows varying from What’s My Line to The Magnificent Ambersons.

Merrill has been married three times. In 1946 she wed Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. and had 3 children, including David Rumbough (d. 1973)

In 1966 she married Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, with whom she had Heather Robertson (d. 2007)

 In 1990’s, Merrill and her third husband, Ted Hartley, merged their company, Pavilion Communications, with the famed RKO to form RKO Pictures which made a number of feature films including Mighty Joe Young (with Disney).

 Merrill devoted a great deal of her time to public and charitable service. She was Chairman of the board and Director emeritus with over 50 years of service to the New York City Mission Society. When her son David was diagnosed with diabetes, Dina founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, dedicated to diabetic research. She served as the International Ambassador for ORBIS International, the flying eye hospital which teaches advanced eye care and eye surgical techniques all over the world.

 Ms. Merrill was an energetic supporter of the performing arts. She was a founding t of te O’Neill Theater Center and an early director of the Paley Media Center. She served for 12 years as presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was honored by Guild Hall, where she performed on stage for many summers in East Hampton, NY,by the naming of their theater and back theater spaces the Dina Merrill Pavilion.

She was a trustee of the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC.

She also served as a board member of the Population Resource Council and the Republican Majority for Choice Committee promoting “choice” for women and was a founding vice chairman of the Pro-Choice Coalition.

As a corporate leader, she served as the Vice Chairman of RKO Pictures and was actively involved in many of its productions and activities. She has served on the Board of Directors of E.F. Hutton Company and the Board of Lehman Brothers.

She is survived by her loving husband Ted Hartley, son Stanley Hutton Rumbough, and ughter Nedenia Rumbough Roosenburg and six grandchildren.

Burial services will be private for the family.  Celebrations of Dina’s life will be scheduled iks to come.

Remembrances of Dina could be sent in her name to:

Orbis International, 520 8th Avenue, 12th Floor, New York, NY, 1001

–        O’Neill Theatre Foundation, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, CT 06385

10037, Attention: Development Office

  Hillwood Estate Museum and Gardens, 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20008

 Messages of condolence will be gratefully received at dinamerrillremembered@rko.com

“Sweat” a Pulitzer Prize- Winning Play That Lives Up to Its’ Title

Sweat 4“Sweat”is this year’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play. and it more than earns that great accolade, as well as its’ daring title. “Sweat” dares you to take into account the sweat of most of its’ main characters’ smaller-than-life lives. Sweat could be a synonym here for “work,” and that is what most of its’ squashed denizens of Reading, Pennsylvania do. Actually, it’s more like slavery. They are slaves to the Steel Mill that the entire town’s economy and their lives are attached to at the hip –Sweat 1 morning, noon and night, until they die. It’s brutal. It’s tough stuff. Now two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage is no stranger to horror. Witness her other, superb, previous Pulitzer-winner “Ruined” about the unspeakable terrors of African warfare and its’ ruinous effect on women.

“Sweat” tackles horrors you can speak of. Over-work and under-pay being the two main topics of nearly every conversation, its’ hard-scrabble characters carry on at the local bar, which is almost womb-like in its’ superb setting by John Lee Beatty, which is so familial and familiar, you feel like you’ve been hanging out there for years, as the plays bedraggled characters have.

If this bar, and its’ Christ-like bartender (a superb James Colby) seem right out of “The Iceman Cometh”, you’re not far wrong. Nottage is really plowing Eugene O’Neill’s lower depths, as well as her own. And like O’Neill, they are all being crushed and cursed by alcohol. Being that it’s 2017, other addictions apply, and pile up on “Sweat”s beleaguered characters as the actions to close down the Mill roll over all their lives in a relentless juggernaut of corporate greed and union busting that leads, of course, to catastrophe.

“Sweat” is terrifyingly prescient. This is the first play I’ve seen that explains why “You Know Who” to quote the View’s Whoopi Goldberg, got elected. This is a Rust-Belt play with all the Rust in full view.Sweat 2“Sweat” begins its’ road to hell-in-a-hand-basket with two matched monologues of two young men, barely out of their teens, childhood friends’ it turns out, one black, one white, who have been imprisoned there for some unspeakable, violent act. We don’t find out just what, until the frightening ending, but suffice it to say, that Khris and Jacob’s predicament hangs over the play like the doomed fog that has shrouded all these characters’ lives, white and black. Eugene O’Neill’s characters have gone from Pipe Dreams to Rust.Sweat 3The cast is uniformly excellent but I do have to single out the German descent White-Supremicist-in-the-making of Will Pullen, who has totally nailed the seemingly sweet, but really brutal Jason, a totally exact product of rural Pennsylvania and his factory working Mom, the Tony nominated Johanna Day.

The two of them enact a scene of horror that rivals any horror film, when he finally gets out of jail and comes home to borrow $5 from her only to find that she is now completely unemployed and a hopeless pill-head, Without that pollution-spilling Steel Mill, they’re both reduced to hopeless addicts and their lives and hopes destroyed.Sweat 5No, “Sweat” isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but it’s god-damned powerful. And Lynn Nottage’s capturing their pain and frustration so winningly is a compelling sign of hope.


#Lynn Nottage #Pulitzer Prize, #Sweat, #Broadway, #Will Pullen # Johanna Day, #Reading Pennsylvania # Stell MillsSweat 4

Laura Linney, Cynthia Nixon BOTH Win Outer Critics, Bette Middler, Andy Karl, too

Present Laughter 3LIttle Foxes 16As I predicted only yesterday, BOTH Laura Linney AND Cynthia Nixon won awards for their unforgettable roles in the double cast “Little Foxes.” It was the Outer Critics Circle who first declared this double victory, which I think will be repeated at both the Drama Desk Awards AND the Tonys, if history is any indicator. But of course, this is an historic first, the double casting of female leads in one terrific show. Men have done this before but not women. Linney won for Best Actress for her Regina-with-a-heart, and Cynthia for the Supporting role of the sad Aunt Birdy. But the actresses both switch parts at alternating performances. So they really were BOTH being honored for BOTH parts, too. As well they should be!Bette Midler and “Hello Dolly” also won. As did Andy Karl for “Groundhog Day.” “”Come from Away” the Canadian Musical about 9/11 on for Best Musical . Jenn Collella, the only character with a song to herself in “Come From Away,” got best featured actress in a musical for her feisty pilot and Gavin Creel got Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his high-stepping Cornelius Hackl inAndy Karl Ground Hog Day 1“Hello, Dolly!” as I predicted he would. The Outer Critics Circle made up from critics whose reviews are read outside New York City are always the first to announce and often predict won the following awards, the Drama Desks, the Tonys, will go, especially in the Actors’ categories. Oh! And Danny DeVito in his Broadway debut as the kibbutzing  furniture appraiser in “The Price” won for Best Featured Actor in a Play, and Kevin Klein for “Present Laughter” as Best Actor in a Play.

For a complete List of winners go to OuterCritics.org.

Come From Away 1.PNG

Magnificent Laura Linney Headed to Best Actress Tony for “Little Foxes”


Newsflash! I just saw “The Little Foxes” for a second time and had an incredible theatrical experience all over again. This time I saw Laura Linney in the leading role of the much-maligned, anti-heroine Regina Giddens, and in Linney’s lustrous hands, she is evil no more. She is simply magnificent.

Because Laura Linney plays this part startlingly, with love.

You feel she loves her dying husband (Richard Thomas, never better) and is torn apart by his chronic illness and approaching demise, and is preyed upon by her two evil brothers (Michael McKean and Darren Goldstein) in ways that have twisted her and embittered her, to the point where she seems like a woman who is a classic villainess. But is she? Linney’s unforgettable performance makes us question and re-see Regina in a very wonderful, complicated, modern light.

Littlr Foxes 7

If she’s a villainess, she’s a villain  that you’re rooting for. And in her own way, she wins.

I think playwright Lillian Hellman has written someone much more complex than originally thought. Laura Linney’s Regina is a valiant, strong woman, who has had her heart broken and has to resort to her brutish ways, which is exactly how her cigar-smoking brothers are treating her She replicates them as the play’s action progresses, words and acts that she is not really comfortable with. But if she has to do them and say them, she will. Men behave this way. Why can’t she?

Linney plays her as the ultimate Southern Belle. I kept thinking of Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern woman, who has to be a monster to survive the Civil War. Linney’s Regina has to become a monster to survive her family. It’s also interesting to note that both these fictional Southern female icons where written in the same decade, the 1930s by Southern women writers, Lillian Hellman and Margaret Mitchell.

At the performance I saw, the supporting cast just jumped up quite a few notches in their various roles. Caroline Stefanie Clay as the devoted, but tart Mammie of the household got tarter. Michael Benz as the dumb son of the horrid brother Horace, got dumber, and Darren Goldstein as Horace became even more frightening and brutish. Michael McKean became so oily & slimy, you’d think he was going to slip off the stage. Their cigar smoke wafting over the first few rows of the house, was as nauseating as their behavior.

lITTLE fOXES 13

Tony Nominee Richard Thomas loves and understands his difficult wife and blames himself for the bitch he now sees standing before him, as he’s dying. You really sense the rich history of their marriage. And you sense his love and deep, deep regrets that the sweet girl he married has turned into this grasping, acquisitive virago, who is capable of killing him.

And Linney’s Regina is just the ultimate Southern belle. She just smiles and smiles, and butter could melt in her mouth. She is so sweet at the start(and flirty) that her smile could give you diabetes. She’s Scarlett O’Hara at the Twelve Oaks ball, surrounded by potential suitors, all wanting her hand. Except Regina’s already married, but the way she behaves you’d never know it.

lITTLE FOXES 14She’s voluptuous and she’s beautiful and she’s charming. But don’t cross her, or god forbid underestimate her! She’s not just a pretty plaything for her dastardly, thieving brothers to dominate and manipulate in their nefarious ways and schemes.  And you cheer for her, when she gets the best of them at the end.

This production is so different for the one I saw several weeks ago, with the two female leads reversed, that I just couldn’t believe it. With this masterful, magnificent Regina, Laura Linney becomes one of the great actresses of our time. As she lets her sick husband die in the famous staircase scene at the end, you sense her heartbreak that her life and her love for him has come to this. It’s killing her as she kills him. She lets out a moan at one point, watching him die, and facing upstage, in a green dress, the color of money, that is positively earth-shattering.

And what of her fellow  co-star and switch-ee, Cynthia Nixon? After glorying in her very different Regina, I felt she really played Aunt Birdy is a two-note character, as most do. Laura Linney did not. She had many varied colors in her Birdy palette, whereas Nixon seems to fade into the background, and just stares at the incredible performance Linney is giving. Her Regina was ice-cold, and very, very intellectual. It was all in her head. The wheels were always turning. LITTLE fOXES 3

And there seemed to be nothing between her and her sick husband. She hated him as much as she hated her hateful brothers. You understood her Regina, and it’s just as valid an interpretation as Linney’s much softer, conflicted one.  But her Birdy was a disappointment to me. It was almost like Nixon was so checked out, she was phoning her Birdy in. And reverting to the classic Birdy as a stage drunk. I think she was drinking more than Linney as Birdy did. Nixon’s Birdy was a dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic. It’s almost like she wasn’t even there.

And now that the Tony Awards and the Drama Desks nominations have come out, Laura Linney is nominated, she’s clearly in the lead in the race for Best Actress. And Cynthia Nixon has been placed in the Supporting Actress category. Linney has been nominated three times (as she has for the Oscar) and never won. Nixon has two Tonys already. In a weak category, Nixon may win again. The award given for both performances, really.

Linney has got competition from Laurie Metcalf in “Doll’s House, Part Two” a play that is the last one I’m going to see this season. So we’ll see how this all plays out.

Seeing it for a second time, I noticed the cracks in the ceiling set and that the ugly, tiny chandelier was positively filthy, and the set itself seemed skewed slightly, like everything was off-kilter in this mad house, and more than a little falling apart. The furniture seemed grand, but didn’t match and the upholstery and rug were faded. Bravo to set designer Scott Pask for creating this worn-down mausoleum for these snake-pit characters to writhe in.

But what a magnificent theatrical experience to see these two astounding American actresses tackle an American classic TWICE! GO TO BOTH!!!Little Foxes 11
#Little Fozes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon # Regina Giddens, #Scarlet O’Hara, #Lillian Helman, #Southern Belle

TONY Noms Out!”Natasha, Pierre…” Got A Dozen! Topping Even “Hello Dolly”!

I’m thrilled to announce that my fave of faves “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” just landed 12, a solid dozen of the All-Important Tony Nominations this morning! It even beat “Hello Dolly” which came in second with 10.

Josh Groban, of course, got nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Musical for his Pierre. He once said he never won awards. Well, now, he’s got a much-prized Tony Nomination in a very competitive year in a very competitive category.

Some musicals were left out altogether. “Amelie”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. Believe it or not the revival of “Sunset Blvd.” and “Anatasia” got two nominations. One for Mary Beth Piel who is the very aristocratic grandmother and Linda Cho for Best Costumes.

Also not turning up much was “War Paint”. Patti Lu Pone & Christine Ebersole were nominated for Best Actress in a Musical, as expected. The incredible set and costumes by David Korins and Catherine Zuber, respectively, but nothing else.

The Tony nominating committee only had four slots per category and sometimes less. It was a busy year but a tough year.One of Broadway’s biggest ever. The grosses are up. And the talent is, too.

I haven’t seen two of the major players on the Best Play side yet, “Sweat” and “Doll’s House, Part two” but I’ll let you know what I think of their chances as soon as I do, within the next two weeks.

Best Play
A Doll’s House, Part 2
Indecent
Oslo
Sweat

Best Musical
Come From Away
Dear Evan Hansen
Groundhog Day The Musical
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Best Book of a Musical
Come From Away (Irene Sankoff and David Hein)
Dear Evan Hansen (Steven Levenson)
Groundhog Day The Musical (Danny Rubin)
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (Dave Malloy)


Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Come From Away (Music and Lyrics: Irene Sankoff and David Hein)
Dear Evan Hansen (Music and Lyrics: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Groundhog Day The Musical (Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin)
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 (Music and Lyrics: Dave Malloy)

Best Revival of a Play
August Wilson’s Jitney
Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Present Laughter
Six Degrees of Separation

Best Revival of a Musical
Falsettos
Hello, Dolly!
Miss Saigon

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Denis Arndt, Heisenberg
Chris Cooper, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Corey Hawkins, Six Degrees of Separation
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Jefferson Mays, Oslo

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
Jennifer Ehle, Oslo
Sally Field, The Glass Menagerie
Laura Linney, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Christian Borle, Falsettos
Josh Groban, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Andy Karl, Groundhog Day The Musical
David Hyde Pierce, Hello, Dolly!
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Denée Benton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Patti LuPone, War Paint
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Eva Noblezada, Miss Saigon

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo
Danny DeVito, Arthur Miller’s The Price
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Richard Thomas, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
John Douglas Thompson, August Wilson’s Jitney

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Johanna Day, Sweat
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Cynthia Nixon, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Condola Rashad, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Michelle Wilson, Sweat

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Mike Faist, Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Rannells, Falsettos
Lucas Steele, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos
Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia

Best Scenic Design of a Play
David Gallo, August Wilson’s Jitney
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
Michael Yeargan, Oslo

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Rob Howell, Groundhog Day The Musical
David Korins, War Paint
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!

Best Costume Design of a Play
Jane Greenwood, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Toni-Leslie James, August Wilson’s Jitney
David Zinn, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Catherine Zuber, War Paint

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Jane Cox, August Wilson’s Jitney
Donald Holder, Oslo
Jennifer Tipton, A Doll’s House, Part 2

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Howell Binkley, Come From Away
Natasha Katz, Hello, Dolly!
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Japhy Weideman, Dear Evan Hansen

Best Direction of a Play
Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, August Wilson’s Jitney
Bartlett Sher, Oslo
Daniel Sullivan, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent

Best Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen
Matthew Warchus, Groundhog Day The Musical
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!

Best Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Peter Darling and Ellen Kane, Groundhog Day The Musical
Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical
Sam Pinkleton, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Best Orchestrations
Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
Larry Hochman, Hello, Dolly!
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
James Earl Jones

Special Tony Award
Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, Sound Designers for The Encounter

Regional Theatre Tony Award
Dallas Theater Center,
Dallas, TX

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award
Baayork Lee

Tony Honors for Excellence in the Theatre
Nina Lannan
Alan Wasser

“Indecent” Glorious Lesbian/Jewish Musical Play


“Indecent” is Pulitzer Prize Winning Lesbian playwright Paula Vogel’s masterpiece. This great American playwright has finally found her voice at age 68 and her greatest triumph. “Indecent” is now at the Cort Theater on Broadway and long may it run. As long as “Fiddler on the Roof,” which it strangely resembles, though it is really a straight play with a lot, and I mean a lot, of  joyous songs and dances  in Yiddish . Perfectly, flawlessly executed under director/collaborator Rebecca Taichman’s masterful hand.Paula Vogel & Rebecca Taischman

At this point in my LONNNNG, career as also a gay playwright, actor, director and critic, I thought I knew every gay and lesbian play backwards and forwards and inside out, four ways to Sunday and back again. But “Indecent” shocked me, not by its’ touching, almost reticent depiction of Lesbian-Jewish love at the turn of the last century. (1907 to be exact), but by the fact that “Indecent” is a play-within-a-play-within-in play and that play was the first successful lesbian play just about ever.

And it was written by a newly married heterosexual Jewish playwright Sholem Asch and called “Got fun Nekome” or “God of Vengeance.” “Indecent” is a celebration and almost a complete re-staging of this incredibly important, seminal, nearly lost GLBT play. We see scenes from it acted out and re-acted endlessly.Indecent 3

It’s certainly one of the best plays of the year, and the most pertinent in this era of incipient terror that is upon us. “Indecent” couldn’t be more timely, or more beautiful. And it’s simple, so simple, and yet utterly complex. So complex, it has sub-titles or super-titles above the action telling us what, when and in what language, the present scene is taking place. It’s a very nifty device, and the shifting Yiddish/English text is glorious in its’ magnificent execution.

Imdecent 1It’s ensemble cast of seven, plus three on-stage actor/musicans,  is flawless. And the story and history of “God of Vengeance” is unbelievably dramatic and true.

Of course it was banned and the cast jailed when they LAST tried to do it on Broadway in 1923. By that time “God of Vengenance” had been a hit all over Europe and also in the Yiddish theater here in New York. But they hit the proverbial wall uptown when they were declared “Obscene, indecent, immoral and impure” and shut down immediately.

It’s ninety minutes and a harrowing delight. Let me add that the final song “Wiegala” heard near the play’s conclusion, was written by Ilse Klein, a nurse at the children’s hospital in Theresienstadt, one of the most notorious concentration camps. She sang this song as a lullaby for the children in the wards there before they were to be transported. It is said she sang this song in line to the gas chambers.Indecent 8Are you crying yet? I was. Yes, “Indecent” will move you to tears and to dance and sing and celebrate Paula Vogel’s breath-taking triumph of a life time.

Superb! Superb! Superb!Laura Linney & Cynthia Nixon On Bway in “Little Foxes”

When theater is this good, it’s a joy! And something as good as the current revival of “Little Foxes” on Bway at MTC with two of our absolute best actresses, Cynthia Nixon and Laura Linney alternating  roles is an evening to be treasured. And treasured again because you can see it a second time with the parts of the villainous Regina and the flibbertigibbet Birdie played by these two towering woman of the American Theater reversed. The critics were given a choice of who to see in which role first and I chose Nixon as Regina and Linney as Birdie. And I’ve never been happier! I can’t wait to see it again with the roles reversed! It’s a win-win situation. And to my knowledge this is an historic first. Actors have switched roles before, but not actresses.

And how smart of Artistic Director Lynn Meadow to allow this to happen on Bway! This is something we never see! Men have been switching up historically, since as long as I can remember. “Becket” is one example. “Othello” is another.  But women? Never! All the more cause for rejoicing. And with one of America’s great stage directors Daniel Sullivan doing the work of HIS career, too! Why I just want to tear my program up and throw it into the air like confetti! Except I won’t because it’s too precious to me as a memory of a theatrical experience that was just about perfect!Of course, I saw Bette Davis do Regina in the movie, and she was pure evil. And she got ANOTHER Oscar nomination. I saw Elizabeth Taylor, of all people, doing the last revival of “Little Foxes” to be on Bway back, when I was in high school. So I felt I knew what I was going to see when I went in to the Samuel J. Friedman Theater on W.47th. But this “Little Foxes” was a total revelation. Never before have I see Regina played as more than a two-dimensional witch of a woman. Nixon added intelligence. I’d almost say compassion to Regina’s bitchy mix.

She seemed torn, for a second, just a tiny second, as her ailing husband (a very good Richard Thomas) climbed to his death on their staircase, like perhaps she considered going to help him. But of course, she does not. She resolutely stared into the audience as he chillingly dies, crying out for her help. Shivers. It gives me shivers just to write about this.

And never also has the character of Aunt Birdie been played as anything except pathetic and bonkers. When I saw Felicia Montealegre play it opposite Elizabeth Taylor, she was totally mad, and sad. And I thought “What hell it must’ve been for her to be married to Leonard Bernstein,” which in real life,   she was.

Laura Linney has none of that. Birdie is her Hamlet. She’s feigning madness to shield herself from the blows that life and her husband (a frightening oaf, Darren Goldstein) is dealing her. When the hulking Goldstein hits her across the face, you could hear the audience gasp as well as scream. Otherwise, the production was so taut and tense, you could hear a pin drop. This superb “Little Foxes” has preserved playwright Hellman’s original three-act structure, which is kind of refreshing.  Act One and Act Two ending with curtain lines that punch you right in the gut. It’s a well-made play. Remember them?

And it’s an astonishment to see that in Laura Linney’s hands, playwright Lillian Hellman has written not one but TWO famous scenes. Of course, there is the staircase scene where Regina lets her husband die. But there’s also a staggering scene at the beginning of Act Three, where Birdie fiercely charges to her niece Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini)”Don’t be like me!” because she has never had “a happy day, a whole happy day” in her life. Birdie is a symbol of the aristocratic south that is truly gone with the wind. And Regina is its’ frightening, mercenary 20th century future.

And both actresses play these juicy roles with such smartness that we are unavoidably reminded its the repressive, male dominance of their patriarchal society that have driven them to madness(though perhaps feigned here) and murder, for real.

Cynthia Nixon, Laura Linney, director Dan Sullivan are all here to remind us that there is greatness in living theater and that “Little Foxes” is a tremendously underestimated American play. Lillian Hellman would be turning cartwheels were she still with us. Brava, Divas!

I would also lastly like to note that come the Tonys (the nominations are to be announced shortly), Ms. Linney will be considered in the Leading Actress in a Play category for her Regina and Ms. Nixon in Supporting for her Birdie, because that’s how they appeared on Opening Night.

#Little Foxes, #Laura Linney, #Cynthia Nixon, #Lillian Hellman, #Broadway (more…)

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