Of course, they've been bad since the beginning. Their late father made his dough in carpetbagger style, cheating everyone in the aftermath of the Civil War. By 1900, the children he raised have become infamous throughout the small town. The snarling brothers beat both animals and women.
Regina, the ice queen, cares nothing for her ailing husband, who's up North getting treatment for his bad heart. They've got horses, fine houses, fearful servants and lots of expensive brandy. When the family gets a chance to turn Daddy's "thousands into millions," they practically salivate at the possibilities. Who cares if the cotton mill they plan to build will only cause more strife?
The real conundrum comes when they have to figure out where they're going to get all the money they need to fund their deal. William Marshall (George Brock), a black-hearted big wheel from Chicago, won't wait more than a week. Brother Benjamin (Robert Leeds) has his $75,000. The sniveling youngest, Oscar (Thomas Baird), lays his third on the table. Only Regina (Claire Hart-Palumbo), who was left out of Daddy's will in true Southern sexist style, needs to pony up.
With her red lips curled into the most reptilian grin, Regina calls on the charms of the only true-hearted member in this den of beasts, her pretty daughter Alexandra (Leigh Anne Wuest). Regina knows her sick husband, Horace, will come home and provide her share if golden-haired Alexandra travels north to fetch him from the hospital.
In the meantime, Regina dreams of all she will have once those millions are in her filthy hands. Most of all, this devil-in-disguise wants to break free from her small-town existence. She's even willing to trade her daughter's future for a high-dollar life in the big city. Wheedling for an even bigger share of the three-way split, Regina throws Alexandra into the pot, agreeing to a marriage between the blond angel and Oscar's insect of son, Leo (Clint Biggerstaff). So what if Alexandra and Leo are first cousins? This is the South, after all. And the marriage means that all the money stays in the family.
Of course, whether Horace will cough up the cash once he comes home is still a question. After all, Regina's been writing her husband for weeks about the lucrative deal and he hasn't responded. And when Alexandra and her father fail to arrive at the train station at the appointed hour, all hell breaks loose.
Suffice it to say, the conniving brothers work to cut Regina out of the deal entirely. With family like this, no one needs enemies, as Horace discovers once he finally arrives home.
The denizens of reality TV have nothing on these folks. The best part of Hellman's wicked story is the writer's bacchanalian revelry in all things evil. This is a family well acquainted with every deadly sin, and it's fun to watch them roll like pigs in the muck of their own hatefulness.
Director Rebecca Greene Udden's cast clearly has a lot of fun being bad. Hart-Palumbo's Regina does everything but spit venom into her victims' eyes. She flashes her skirts in quiet rage and squares her chin when crossed. It's clear she'll get her way in the end. The entertainment is in finding out how.
Baird's Oscar is the perfect spineless bastard who beats his sad wife, then cowers under the Machiavellian mind games played by his older brother, Benjamin. Leeds, who is much shorter than his partners in crime, rises with Napoleonic dignity, filling the oldest and meanest brother's shoes with a fearsome Southern version of the heartless mob boss.
Technically the show is lovely. Sarajane Milligan's period costumes are graceful and flattering. And Boris Kaplun's elegant set, with its curving moldings and oriental carpet, is one of the strongest put together by Main Street in years.
In fact, the entire production is the most successful of the theater's season. Wicked, fast and fun, it's better than TV and every bit as bad.