Greed has been the ruination of many a family.
No where is that more evident than in Alpena Civic Theatre's intense family drama, "The Little Foxes" by Lillian Hellman, in which three manipulative siblings in the turn-of-the-century South try their best to outmaneuver one another and snare the largest share of their soon-to-be, ill-gotten wealth.
The scheming dance they do with one another takes place on what has to be one of the best Civic Theatre sets in several seasons. ACT's sets are always topnotch, but the grand Victorian-era living room of the Giddens House makes you want to move right in and live there. Kudos to set designer Chip Lavely, set artist Nancy Mead and a large team of set construction volunteers.
The costumes by Marilyn Kettler sumptuous gowns and elegant tuxedos with tails among them are a veritable feast for the eyes. The lighting, designed by Jay Kettler, also is noteworthy and takes advantage of the period wall sconces, chandelier and ornate sidetable lamp.
But it is the actors themselves who take this vintage production directed flawlessly by Pat Jacques and make it a riveting two-hour experience. Terry Carlson, equally adept at doing comedy or drama, becomes the queen of mean as Regina Hubbard, the steely, mercenary sister who will stop at nothing to gain the lion's share of the profits from a proposed cotton mill.
Carlson fills this Oscar-winning role once played Bette Davis, and just like her famous predecessor, has cold and calculating down pat.
Just as intent on grabbing all that they can are Regina's brothers, Oscar and Benjamin. Not only does Jacques direct the show, but he also gives a laudable turn as the more affable but just as greedy Benjamin. Dan Nordenbrock plays Oscar, and as such, displays both his character's lust for wealth and his disturbingly abusive relationship with his wife.
There are certainly those characters in the play who everyone is loath to like the three siblings chief among them and then there are those who try to maintain a sense of decency and kindness in the face of the underlying family machinations: Oscar's wife, Birdie (Carol Rundell), Regina's daughter, Alexandra (Megan Mindykowski); and even Regina's sickly husband, Horace (Douglas Niergarth).
Rundell gives a really good performance as the kind and cultured Birdie, who has long since learned to handle the disappointments in her life and marriage via the bottle. Mindykowski also performs strongly as the sweet Daddy's girl, who by the end of the play's three acts, displays her true mettle.
Niergarth is powerful as Regina's husband conveying his character's physical frailty, his bitterness toward his wife and his own calculating quest for one upmanship. Things don't go well for Horace and he hasn't always lived a stellar existence, but Niergarth succeeds in making him a sympathetic person.
Jonathon Berrisford's Leo, the ne'r-do-well son of Birdie and Oscar, lists on the side of disagreeable characters. Just like others in his family, Leo has no scruples, and he becomes a pawn of the deceit and corruption by willingly stealing bonds from his uncle's bank vault. Berrisford does a great job with his latest role at ACT.
So too, do the husband and wife team of Rosina and Jim Phillips, who appear as Regina's black household servants, Addie and Cal, over whom Regina and the others still hold economic and race-conscious sway.
Like so many generations of Southern whites and their black servants before them, Addie and Cal silently witness and know many of the family secrets and have formed their own allegiances. Finely filling the only other role in the production is ACT newcomer Bob Lister, who appears as a Yankee businessman come South to form a partnership with Regina and her brothers.
Though set in 1900, the over-arching theme of "The Little Foxes" still remains relevant today due in large part because greed and troublesome family relationships never seem to go out of style.
Remaining performances are today through Sunday and May 19-22 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the ACT box office at 354-3624.