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The Barksdale's new production presents a witty and cunning story about greed and selfishness. 

Outfoxed

Portraying the divisive effects of money upon a family, Lillian Hellman's play, "The Little Foxes," demonstrates the bottom-line levels to which people will descend to accomplish their own desires.

Currently playing at the Barksdale Theatre, Hellman's 1939 drama of human nature still packs a wallop.

Set in 1900, the play revolves around a business deal created by members of the Hubbard clan: wily Benjamin, his cruel brother, Oscar, and their sister, Regina, whose lack of mores spurs on most of the play. What follows destroys their family triumvirate as the siblings attempt to outmaneuver one another for the biggest slice of the monetary pie.

Though the play's plot may sound heavy-handed, Hellman's script actually contains many instances of humor. Whether referring to someone's ethical shortcomings, dimwittedness or interfamily marriages, the mirth infused in Foxes allows theatergoers to more comfortably follow the family's descent into a netherworld of greed.

"Foxes'" momentum depends on the Hubbard siblings, all presented in varying levels of piggishness. Representing the basest level is Oscar. Acted by Daniel Moore, Oscar's a creep with only a slight veneer of charm, and that is only there to get what he wants. Whether with a whine in his voice or the sneer on his face, Moore brings to life a lout that audiences can love to loathe.

Jack Parrish — last seen at the Barksdale as the Marquess of Queensbury in "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" — returns as the silver-tongued Benjamin. Benjamin is stately in his criminal complicities and the charming Parrish aptly plays him. Parrish's performance recalls Napoleon's description of his own Slick Willie diplomat, Talleyrand: "a silk stocking filled with mud."

But atop the totem pole of predators is Regina. Played by Harriet Traylor, Regina proves to be a she-wolf. Demure with potential Chicago business partner William Marshall (played by 'Rick Marshall, her financial talons are exposed when negotiating with her kin, selling out her daughter — and worse. Playing the respectable wife, the coquette and the matriarchal manipulator, Traylor's threefold performance brings to the Barksdale a multidimensional character who's so ahead of her time — both for the play's time frame and the show's Broadway premiere more than six decades ago — that she's almost anachronistic.

Foxes' premiere at the Barksdale flowed well under the seamless direction of Bruce C. Miller. Even the technical gaffes of most opening nights were nonexistent during the show's three-acts and approximately 90-minute performance time. Only the selection of what sounded like gospel music during the intermissions seemed queer and out of place. Perhaps to subconsciously infer religion's adages — such as there's more to life than money or that the love of money is the root of all evils — the incongruous songs were meant to gel with the rest of the production.

What's surprising is how "modern" the play seems. Though harkening back to the beginning of the 20th century, this 1939 play holds up remarkably well in contemporary times. Lose the gowns and antique props, adjust the financial figures to present prices and the play could be broadcast in prime time without losing a beat, or a viewer.

Yet, perhaps it's the love of money, and what people will do to obtain it, that makes "The Little Foxes" so timeless. And definitely worth a gander.

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