By George Basler
Southern Tier Actors Read (S.T.A.R) is returning to live performances this weekend on a truly nasty note.
Friday through Sunday (June 25-27), the company will perform a staged reading of Lillian Hellman’s acerbic The Little Foxes at the Phelps Mansion in Binghamton.
The play focuses on the Hubbards, a rapacious Southern family battling for control of the family business in the post-Civil War era. First produced in 1939, it is considered a classic and features one of the great villainesses of all time, Regina Hubbard, a divinely despicable anti-heroine. The other Hubbards are equally nasty.
S.T.A.R had planned to present the play last spring to mark its 10th anniversary, but COVID-19 forced cancellation. Before a recent rehearsal, members of the 10-person cast said they were thrilled to get back to live in-person performances.
“Being able to see everyone again who you’ve worked with for years is such a joy,” said Joe Bardales, who is playing Ben Hubbard.
“It’s like breathing again after being underwater,” added Chris Nickerson, who has acted in numerous regional shows and is directing the S.T.A.R. production.
During COVID, S.T.A.R carried on by posting play readings on the internet, with actors appearing over Zoom. While “it was better than nothing, I really didn’t like it,” Judy McMahon, S.T.AR’s co-founder, said. She is playing Birdie Hubbard, the timid, verbally abused wife of one of the Hubbard brothers.
A newcomer in the 10-person cast is Norman Wallace, who has not acted since his high school play. He is playing a servant in the Hubbard household. “I’m too old to be nervous,” he said, with a laugh, adding that it is important to have new experiences as you get older.
Nickerson called The Little Foxes a throwback to the days of big melodramas. The play also has a feminist undertone, because Regina Hubbard is such a strong character, he argued. “I’m not saying she’s good, but she’s strong, and being strong in that period was the exception,” Nickerson said.
Andrea Gregori, a Binghamton-based opera singer and actress, is playing Regina. She called the part “the role of a lifetime.” Actresses who have played the character include Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Anne Bancroft and Elizabeth Taylor. “Yes, it’s intimidating, but it’s an honor to be cast in the role,” said Gregori, who hopes to bring her own interpretation to the part.
The Little Foxes is marked by a compelling story and the strength Hellman’s writing, McMahon said. “There is not one word you (as an actor) do not want to say,” she said.
Besides, she added with a laugh, “We all like to do Southern accents.”
IF YOU GO: The Little Foxes will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Phelps Mansion, 191 Court St., Binghamton. For ticket reservations, call the Phelps Mansion Museum at 722-4873.