The Field. Bull McCabe has been farming a few acres for several years — fencing, tearing out weeds, fertilizing — until the barren soil has become a lush pasture for his herd of cows. And now the owner, a poor widow, needs to put the field up for sale. Enter an American businessman, William Dee. He wants to pave over part of the land and set up a business selling concrete blocks. We want to empathize with McCabe, but The Field is also very much about rural Irish culture in all its harshness, poverty and violence, and the man is a vicious bully and wifebeater who, along with his equally unscrupulous son, once tracked down a donkey and beat it to death for trespassing on his field. So the outline of another theme entirely emerges, a theme having to do with social isolation and the way the evil promulgated by one psychotic human being can spread until it engulfs an entire community. Terrified or complicit, worn down by the hardships of their own lives, one by one the villagers enable McCabe's depredations, from the widow condemned to poverty by his actions to the slimy, go-along-to-get-along pub owner and his harassed and overburdened wife, Maimie. The Field is not a great play, but it is a strong and interesting one with many vital characters, and director Rita Broderick has created a solid production that's buoyed by several standout performances. Presented by the Denver Victorian Playhouse through April 2, 4201 Hooker Street, 303-433-4343, www.denvervic.com. Reviewed March 3.
The Little Foxes. Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes is a serious melodrama, exploring the shifting of an era as, thanks to industrialization, the old order in the American South gives way to the new. The fanged Regina is at the center of the action, along with two equally greedy, duplicitous brothers: Oscar, whose sarcasm and violence have driven his fragile wife, Birdie, to drink; and Ben, a conniving, outwardly genial, old-school fixer. The siblings are all ugly, vulpine creatures, determined to seize any opportunity to acquire wealth, regardless of whom they must trample underfoot to get it. Regina schemes with and against her brothers; she's willing to sacrifice her seventeen-year-old daughter, Alexandra, to Oscar's nasty, chip-off-the-old-blockish son; and she behaves even more heinously toward her husband, Horace. Although the play, written in 1939, is two-dimensional and somewhat dated, it holds up fairly well as a theater piece. The action is absorbing and cleverly and speedily plotted, the arguments often exhilarating. And the politics still speak to us loud and clear. When one of the characters says, "There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it like in the Bible with the locusts. And other people who stand around and watch them eat," we can think of dozens of contemporary examples. In keeping with the play's over-the-top tone, director Ed Baierlein has encouraged a stagey, mannered performance style in his actors, but he himself plays Ben with an understated naturalism that grounds the entire production. Presented by Germinal Stage through March 20, 2450 West 44th Avenue, 303-455-7108, www.germinalstage.com. Reviewed March 10.