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'Little Foxes'

Elizabeth Marvel and Marton Csokas in " The

Elizabeth Marvel and Marton Csokas in " The Little Foxes" showing at the New York Theatre Workshop on Oct. 31, 2010. Credit: Jan Versweyveld

Vulpines have seldom been as slinky and brutal as in Ivo van Hove's stunning evisceration of "The Little Foxes" - Lillian Hellman's 1939 potboiler about a greedy Southern family and the fate of a big investment.

The Flemish director - a beloved and reviled visiting provocateur - is again joined at the gut with his American muse, Elizabeth Marvel, whose Hedda Gabler and Blanche DuBois are still drawing blood in the memories of theater goers. This time, she is surrounded by an extraordinary company equally willing to go over the top and over the brink for van Hove's primal-yet-elegant vision.

The actors also willingly hurtle themselves against the purple suede walls and floor in this stripped-down, insular distillation of the greedy family's Southern house. Dressed in clingy cocktail gowns and dark, ominous business suits, the characters wear their nervous systems on their thick skins, double-crossing one another with exquisite style and viciousness. Racism, class entitlement, carnivorous need and, especially in this production, oppressed women are boiled down to their ugly essentials. Let's ignore the final moment, which uses a John Lennon song to cheapen the quality of the manipulation.

WHAT "The Little Foxes"

WHERE New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St.

INFO $70; 212-279-4200;

BOTTOM LINE Stunning and cruel distillation of Southern potboiler

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