On the mainstage of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, audiences are treated to some of the most venal, spiteful and morally suspect creatures ever put in a play, courtesy of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. On the tiny Thompson Shelterhouse stage, comes an almost diametrically opposing view of humanity, with John Pielmeier's Willi.
Jack Wetherall (The Elephant Man on Broadway) stars in this one-man show about real-life janitor turned-mountain climber, Willi Unsoeld. In 1963, Unsoeld and a teammate were the first to climb the treacherous West Ridge of Mount Everest. Also, Unsoeld eventually became one of the first directors of the Peace Corps and a noted public speaker for his joyous outlook on life. His motto: "Life begins at 10,000 feet."
Surprisingly enough, the inspirational Willi is penned by John Pielmeier, author of such darker plays as Agnes of God and the Broadway-bound thriller, Voices in the Dark. Other plays include Steeple Chase and Impassioned Embraces. Willi was culled from transcripts of Unsoeld's lectures and workshops, and Pielmeier himself appeared in the piece back in 1991 at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre.
Cincinnati Playhouse associate artistic director Charles Towers directs Wili, which begins previews Apr. 28 for an Apr. 29 opening and a run through May 24.
As for The Little Foxes, Hellman's dark family drama continues on the mainstage through May 8. The play had a well received Broadway revival last season, starring Stockard Channing and Brian Murray. Cincinnati Playhouse hosts Gordana Rashovich as Regina in a revival that opened Apr. 9 after starting previews Apr. 7.
Hellman's drama tells of a Southern clan battling for control of the family fortune. Previous Reginas have included Tallulah Bankhead, Anne Bancroft, Elizabeth Taylor, and (on film) Bette Davis.
Channing told playwright John Guare (in a New York Magazine interview), "Because of the movie [of Little Foxes] I thought I knew the play, but the play surprised me. I knew it was about sex and money, but Regina wasn't this villainess out of some outdated melodrama, twirling her mustaches. I loved her gusto, her ability to think on her feet, to turn on a dime... She's a woman who wants the one thing she never had -- freedom. And her own money. What's the price of that?"
Said Channing, "Little Foxes is set in this time when America was ready to break open on the world scene. If it was written about today, it'd have to take place in Australia -- no, South Africa. A society ready to declare itself."
Joining Rashovich in the Ohio production are Phyllis Bash, Randy Frazier, Carol Schultz, Patrick Husted, Aaron Harpold, Wesley Stevens, Richard Russell Ramos, Debra Funkhouser and Joneal Joplin. Designing the show are Joseph P. Tilford (set), Elizabeth Covey (costumes) and Kirk Bookman (lighting).
For information on Willi and The Little Foxes at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park call (513) 421-3888.
-- By David Lefkowitz