Sherman Howard and Stephanie Wright
Thompson in Another Part of the Forest
(© Dick Larson)
Sherman Howard and Stephanie Wright
Thompson in Another Part of the Forest
(© Dick Larson)
For anyone who's ever wondered what the venomous characters in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes might have been like when they were younger, the Peccadillo Theatre Company's delectable revival of Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, playing at the Theatre at St. Clement's, provides some answers. The play, originally produced some seven years after the success of Foxes, may not be as assured as its predecessor, but it is, nonetheless, a satisfying potboiler, served up with zest in director Dan Wackerman's generally taut staging.

Forest unfolds in 1880 in the small town of Bowden, Alabama, where the Hubbard clan is enjoying the first tastes of its financial -- if not societal -- success. While the Southern aristocracy founders, the Hubbards, nouveau riche merchants, thrive, thanks to the cunning of patriarch Marcus (Sherman Howard), who made his initial fortune selling black market goods and blockade running during the Civil War. His ability to capitalize on his neighbors' misfortunes, however, means that the family is not much loved in the community and that his daughter Regina (Stephanie Wright Thompson) has to hide her love affair with Captain John Bagtry (Christopher Kelly), a war hero whose brother may have died because of Marcus' trade during the war.

Regina has a scheme to make her dreams of marriage to Bagtry a reality, just as her older brother Ben (Matthew Floyd Miller) has his own designs on how to get the money he needs to invest in a coal mining operation, once he learns that Bagtry's cousin Birdie (Kendall Rileigh) needs a loan in order to save her family's estate. The two siblings find themselves at cross-purposes in their plans.

Meanwhile, their brother Oscar (Ben Curtis), in his own dim way, attempts to make his dreams of marrying Laurette (Ryah Nixon), once a prostitute, come true. Backstabbing runs high, and when combined with a dreadful secret that matriarch Lavinia (Elizabeth Norment) hints at (and ultimately reveals), it's impossible to not be sucked into the piece.

Wackerman's production, which unfolds gracefully thanks to Joseph Spirito's scenic design that elegantly telescopes the family's parlor, patio and veranda into one space, is filled with a number of terrific performances, particularly Howard's turn as Marcus. He not only commands the stage as the character bullies his wife, children and neighbors, but also manages to evince the humor and intelligence that lie just underneath the man's surface.

Equally impressive are Thompson's captivating performance as the manipulative Regina, who's still learning some things about plying her feminine wiles, and Miller's superlatively oily and simultaneously charming portrayal of brother Ben. While Norment overplays some of Lavinia's flightiness early on, she settles into the role admirably and by the play's conclusion, her work proves to be riveting. Nixon's work as the earthy Laurette (who sports the wittiest of costume design Amy C. Bradshaw's often gorgeous period gowns) is a joy, and Rileigh charms thoroughly as the sweetly hapless Birdie.