Dynamic female duos have been dominating entertainment this spring, with Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange teaming up on TV for FX’s miniseries “Feud: Bette and Joan” and two-time Tony Award winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole sparring in new musical “War Paint.” On April 19, another legendary pairing joined those ranks when a revival of Lillian Hellman’s classic play “The Little Foxes” starring Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon opened at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Under the direction of Tony winner Daniel Sullivan (“Proof”), Linney and Nixon alternate the roles of sisters-in-law Regina and Birdie, the former a conniving wife who schemes to get a large sum of money out of her sick husband Horace in order to enter a business venture with her two brothers, and the latter a genteel daughter of aristocracy who becomes unfortunately embroiled in the plot. Theater vets Michael McKean and Richard Thomas join the leading ladies as Regina’s brother Ben and husband Horace, respectively.
With the most recent revival of “Little Foxes” bowing a distant two decades ago, were critics quick to embrace this Manhattan Theatre Club mounting?
“Little Foxes” received very positive reviews from critics with many commending all aspects of the production. Citing it as a Critic’s Pick, Alexis Soloski (New York Times) calls this mounting a “confident,” “nimble, exhilarating revival” that “prefers psychological and social detail over Southern gothic fripperies,” with kind notices for Nixon’s “heartbreaking trills and flutters” in her performance as Birdie and Linney’s “stinging surprise” viciousness as Regina. Jeremy Gerard (Deadline) further praises the performers, including the “sumptuous” Linney, who’s “aptly viperish and moderates her performance so Regina’s evil nature builds precisely,” the “terribly moving” Nixon, and Thomas, who he calls “the revelation of the production” who “has never been better than he is here.” Overall, Gerard praises the “flawless” production that’s “staged with a rock solid hand by Daniel Sullivan.”
Marilyn Stasio (Variety) similarly applauds the “brilliant work” of Sullivan, whose “casting is flawless” and whose “team of designers couldn’t be better chosen.” On the performances, she raves about Nixon, proclaiming, “I can’t imagine a more moving portrayal of Birdie,” with additional kind words for the “ferocious” Linney and Thomas’ “superbly played” Horace. While Stasio seems to love Hellman’s “brilliant, blistering… astonishingly well-constructed” play, Jesse Green (Vulture) feels much less smitten with the original text and this new production, which he deems a “good-enough revival” and a “solid but not transcendent” production, finding fault in Sullivan’s “grandstanding direction.”
These overall strong notices should translate into multiple Tony Award nominations for the cast and crew as well as a nomination in Best Revival, for which “Little Foxes” will be a top contender. Sullivan, who last contended for a Tony Award in 2011 for “The Merchant of Venice” and who has not won since 2001 when he picked up his prize for “Proof,” looks like a potential nominee in the Best Director category despite the overabundance of directors from both new plays and revivals who will compete for five slots.
As for the actresses, both three-time Tony nominee Linney (“Time Stands Still,” “Sight Unseen,” “The Crucible”) and Tony winner Nixon (“Rabbit Hole”) look strong for nominations, although their exact category placement has not yet been finalized. Neither woman has been billed above the title, which means that the show’s producers will have to petition one or both of the actresses to be promoted from the Featured Actress to the Actress category. When the 1981 revival contended at the Tonys, Elizabeth Taylor earned a nomination in the Actress category for her performance as Regina while Maureen Stapleton reaped a bid in Featured Actress for playing Birdie.
The official opening night cast for this production had Linney appearing as Regina and Nixon as Birdie, which informs the role that each actress will be considered for by the Tony nominating committee. Should they both end up contending in the Actress category, it’s possible that they both reap bids based on the strength of their performances and reviews, but if only one breaks through the crowded line-up this year, Nixon may have the edge. Of the supporting cast members, Thomas, who has twelve prior Broadway credits to his name, looks like the strongest potential contender and could very likely earn his first-ever Tony nomination.
In addition to the performances, “Little Foxes” should earn quite a few nominations in the below the line categories. Three-time Tony winner Scott Pask (“The Book of Mormon,” “The Coast of Utopia,” “The Pillowman”) received many kudos on his exquisite scenic design, as did Jane Greenwood’s costume design for the production. Unlike Pask, Greenwood has never won a Tony Award before despite 20 previous bids, although she did receive the honorary Lifetime Achievement award in 2014. If Greenwood receives the nomination, Tony voters may find her lack of a competitive win far too conspicuous and seek to remedy it this year. Justin Townsend, who just last year earned two Tony nominations for his lighting designs for musical “American Psycho” and play “The Humans,” could also build on his momentum and reap a third Tony bid.
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