Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Director Kyle Donnelly may be going for ironic effect, keeping the volume muted as the members of the Hubbard family destroy each other over money, but it isn't always effective. Some of Hellman's lines really need to be spoken loudly and emphatically.
Regina Giddens (Marg Helgenberger) lives well in her elegant Alabama home in 1900, but she isn't happy. Her brothers Ben (Edward Gero) and Oscar (Gregory Linington) inherited their father's money, cutting her out, and engineered her marriage to Horace Giddens (Jack Willis), a banker who lacks the killer instinct they have. Now Ben and Oscar are preparing to go into business with William Marshall (James Whalen) to build a cotton mill and need Horacewho has been hospitalized in Baltimore with heart diseaseto put up one-third of the investment.
Helgenberger plays Regina as quietly venomous, meaning that she seldom raises her voice as she assails the people who would try to thwart her. She can be charming, as with Marshall, but the truer side of her personality comes out when she confronts Ben and Horace. It's just that some of her hateful words don't land with the force they deserve. (Jess Goldstein's costumes also help build her character: her flashy red dress trimmed with gold, her tailored outfit set off with decorative buttonsshe wants to be a woman of fashion but may be trying too hard.)
Gero, a physically imposing man, ably depicts both sides of Ben, comfortably avuncular when things go his way and vicious when he needs to be. Linington, slimmer and younger, is all barely suppressed fury as Oscar, while Willis plays Horace with a sense of moral purpose that never becomes preachy.
Isabel Keating's performance as Birdie, a faded Southern aristocrat and Oscar's wife, may be the riskiest. She encourages the audience to laugh at her dreamy recollections of plantation life and her taste for wineright up to the point when she can't take it anymore. (Goldstein has dressed her in drooping, old-fashioned styles to emphasize the contrast with Regina.) Megan Graves is affecting, if again low-key, as Regina and Horace's daughter Alexandra.
The most striking thing about Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams' scenic design is the staircase, which seems both steeper and longer than one would expect. Even people who don't know the play will realize that something important will happen on those stairs.