Monday, May 25, 2015


At The Goodman Theatre in Chicago through June 7, 2015

By David Chack

Near the beginning of The Little Foxes, the Chicago businessman William Marshall, who is being courted by the Hubbard family for his company in opening a cotton mill, says that he isn’t in business for any kind of high-minded values – apparently referring to socialism or workers rights ideologies. He just wants to make money and the Hubbards are the kind of people whom he can do that with because they are “…partners who so closely follow the teachings of Christ.”

(L to R) Shannon Cochran (Regina Hubbard Giddens), Michael Canavan (William Marshall), Mary Beth Fisher (Birdie Hubbard), Dan Waller (Leo Hubbard), Dexter Zollicoffer (Cal), Steve Pickering (Oscar Hubbard), Rae Gray (Alexandra “Zan” Giddens)   

The moment is nearly a throw away. But in an insightful direction, Henry Wishcamper the play's director, has the entire Hubbard family pause, take in the phrase, and then go on. In so doing he creates an unspoken, even a secret acknowledgement between the members of the Hubbard family that they do not follow the teachings of Christ and this reflects the back-story that is Lillian Hellman’s own Jewish family.

Jews in the South were a different breed from Jews of the North. Acutely aware of their differences in a region that was demonstrably Christian, they found acceptance in their stereotyped role as Jews who were seen as necessary in matters of money and business. And in fact Hellman’s family came from Demopolis, Alabama where the play is set, they were in business, and they were a successful banking family. Her maternal grandmother, who the matriarch in the play Regina Hubbard Giddens is modeled, evidently never missed an opportunity to mock and belittle her father for his poor business sense in front of her and her mother. (Southern Literary Trail) (Jewish Women’s Archives)

In using her family as models for the Hubbard family in The Little Foxes and because she never mentions that they are Jews, Hellman felt free to make them into the stereotyped Jewish family that their neighbors expected them to be. They are greedy and avaricious and Regina is so vengeful that she orchestrates an act so horrible that not even the rest of her family can envision it.

Shannon Cochran (Regina Hubbard Giddens)

Hellman also references her own life as a Southern Jew in the daughter of Alexandra or Zan, who breaks away from her family at the plays end to join left-wing progressives. Many of those she joined with were Jews in New York City, also putting Zan (aka Hellman) in the tradition of Jewish leftists.

(L to R) Rae Gray (Alexandra “Zan” Giddens), John Judd (Horace Giddens), Cherene Snow (Addie)

When Hellman wrote The Little Foxes anti-Semitism was at its height in the world. In her personal writings she has said that when she went to pre-war Nazi Germany in the 1930s she really felt what it was like to be a Jew. Hellman felt the darkness that was to descend on Europe and consequently on the world. In my interview with the play's director Henry Wishcamper, he told me that the anchor speech for him was, "The people that eat the earth, are like the locusts of the Bible. And then there are those who stand around and watch them eat it. Sometimes just standing by is as evil as doing the evil itself. They aren't doing anything to make the world better."

For us to know the crypto-Jewish story, as well as the events in Hellman’s time, we then see a complex and psychological portrayal in The Little Foxes that shows a Jewish family that has been poisoned by their “outsiderness” in the South, no matter how successful they become. Consequently the play shows that they have become the demons their neighbors see them as. 

Wishcamper is relentless in his depiction of this family that implodes through their need for power and also driven toward their destination of darkness. The performances are searing from the portrayals of the Hubbards to the African-American domestic help Cal and Addie. This group of outsiders, though on different levels of power, are all hurtling towards an end that will drive them to the only solution, which is exile – exile from family and exile from the South.

Interestingly and even mythically Hellman brackets the evil through the play’s title The Little Foxes, referencing The Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible. The Song of Songs or Song of Solomon is one of the great love poems in literature. The phrase “the little foxes” (2:15) is about how the little foxes will ruin the king and princess' vineyard of love. Many have written that this is Hellman’s metaphor for the beauty of the South and that the Hubbards are the virulent little foxes who will ruin it and lay it to waste.

But bearing in mind that the Hubbards are the crypto-Jews of the South, the “little foxes” is the oppressive evil of prejudice and racism that infiltrates the vineyard. And the vineyard is the Hubbard family itself. In other words, this place that Jewish families had hoped to have as their home and that they would make into a beautiful and intoxicating vineyard, is instead infected by prejudice born from hateful stereotypes, racism, greed, and power. The great irony is that the Hubbard family, unlike old Mother Hubbard of the nursery rhyme, is made into the "shylock" that their neighbors wish them to be. 

The Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Through June 7, 2015
Director Henry Wishcamper

Sunday, January 11, 2015


As the events in Paris and Bogo, Nigeria unfold there are images of horror that are screaming. We can only imagine what it must have been like for the satirical cartoon artists that were massacred by Islamic jihadists in Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish shoppers in the kosher market shopping for the Sabbath who were greeted by a man who wanted to kill them because they were Jews. 

I am also appalled about what I am learning about the massacre of possibly 2,000 people slaughtered by the Boko Haram in Nigeria, basically obliterating an entire town. 

We are shocked at the evil and we are also amazed. There was heroism reported. A French-Muslim man, Lassana Bathily led the Jewish

Lassana Bathily
shoppers down to the walk-in freezer in order to hide. Then he escaped and at first though briefly held by the police as possibly connected to the jihadist, he then was released and continued to help the police so they could save the people in the market.

These attacks are attacks on the freedom of ideas, the power of the arts, the transmission of culture, and the ability to be transformed. Yes, Charlie Hebdo was a playful, satirical magazine, provocative and sometimes brutally irreverent. In this way it was performative, getting us to sit up and take notice, but also getting us to really think and see the world through our darker sides and then to examine them to decide how we feel about immigrants, races, gender issues and sexuality, politicians, religions, and more.

These attacks are also against the Jewish people. They can be seen as an accumulation of attacks, not necessarily linked, that have occurred relatively recently - from the Hyper Cacher Jewish market

to an attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 where children and their teacher were killed. They echo the attack on the Jewish museum in Belgium in May 2014 where a shooter burst in and killed four and the attack on the Chabad Jewish Center in Mumbai in 2008 that killed six including the rabbi and his wife. Their two year old son was saved by his Indian nanny; and the very recent November 2014 attack in an Israeli synagogue where five men were killed who were praying. Even in the Charlie Hebdo office the only woman killed was a Jewish woman, Elsa Cayat,

Elsa Cayat
who worked there and was specifically sought and killed by the jihadists, as other women were left alone. Her cousin reported that she had been receiving anti-Semitic threats. 

These attacks are also specifically against ideas and the transmission of knowledge. The Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school seeking to eradicate any form of education that is against their values and desire for power. They have specifically targetted schools. They are also against freedom for women, since they believe in a caliphate of Islamic beliefs that are repressive. The recent massacre is showing an upsurge in their quest for a fundamentalist caliphate.

In other words these attacks are an assault on a new world. It is a world that is closer than ever before due to the digital world we live in. This world lives in close proximity to different religions, different belief systems, different cultures and most of all different identities - both individual and collective. This also means that we are in an age of transculturalism - a vital way of seeing the world as "collected identities." We no longer live in the age of the melting pot seeking to merge all heritages and cultures into one big identity, which basically means the identity of the majority culture. 

One of my prophets is Paul Simon and his album "Graceland" is for me one of the great works of art

Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon

On it he has many pieces that depict this transcultural journey and the song that says it best for me is Under African Skies. If there is anything redeeming in all of this, perhaps we can hear it in his voice.: 

Joseph’s face was black as night
The pale yellow moon shown in his eyes
His path was marked
By the stars in the Southern Hemisphere
And he walked his days
Under African Skies

This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain