It's easy to understand how Lillian Hellman's foxy little Southern businessmen, the Hubbard family, can be mistaken for aristocrats by a Northern associate. After a lavish dinner, which can only be glimpsed upstage during the opening scene of "The Little Foxes," the visitor notes, 'You live better than the rest of us, you eat better, you drink better. I wonder your find time, or want to find time, to do business."
This gives the Hubbards a good snicker after he leaves. They haven't considered themselves rich, their resources being far short of their prodigious greed, but they have plans to become so at this man's expense.
That half-hidden dining room is obviously crammed with fine things, a sumptuous continuation of the downstage Victorian drawing room, rich in polished woods, brocades, paintings and detail. The stiffly graceful turn-of-the-century costumes look as if the research and the seams underneath must be as meticulous as the visible parts. And they adorn not only the most beautiful and celebrated of film stars, Elizabeth Taylor, in her stage debut, but a quality cast of actors with impeccable Broadway credentials.
In all, this production of a 1939 shocker set in 1900 is so magnificently upholstered with the best of everything that one can hardly find time, or want to find time, to wonder about its primary business.
Is there any dramatic interest left in the revelation of callousness and dishonesty in the leading citizens of a small town? Are there any psychological truths to be found in characters embodying Vanity, Greed, and several variations of Weakness? Who cares?
Well, then -- is Elizabeth Taylor good on the stage? She's a pleasure to watch, for the kittenish coarseness of the character as well as for her hour-glass statelines. Her acting certainly keeps pace with that of the distinguished Maureen Stapleton, and of Anthony Zerbe and Tom Aldredge, both solid actors. The fact is that all of them appear somewhat one-dimensional, although each of the static portraits is, in itself, interested. (It's a shame that they couldn't agree on an accent, considering that they are supposed to be one family living all their lives in the same place, but that can be supposed to be one of the director's many faults.)
The immense luxury in which this is all done has become more important than what is being done. As the leading character says "The rich don't have to be subtle."
THE LITTLE FOXES -- At the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater through April 25. Sold out.