September 25, 2008

Actress Taps into Her Dark Side for Another Part of the Forest

By Channing Gray

It's been three years since then 17-year-old Gabby Sherba played Alexandra Giddens in 2nd Story Theatre's production of The Little Foxes, Lillian Hellman's look at the machinations of the cutthroat Hubbard clan.

She played opposite Joanne Fayan's ruthless Regina Hubbard Giddens, the mother who blackmailed her two brothers for a stake in the family cotton mill. Sweet Alexandra was turned off by her mother's manipulative behavior and in the end lost all respect for her.

Now Sherba gets to play the heavy. Beginning tomorrow she will take a turn as the young Regina in the prequel to The Little Foxes, Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, which opens in previews at 2nd Story. The two roles are like night and day, yet one has informed the other.

"I learned so much about Regina by playing someone who was afflicted by her horrible nature," said Sherba. "By the time Regina was old enough to have a 17-year-old daughter she had stomped out all the good in her makeup."

As a young woman in Another Part of the Forest, Regina is well on her way to becoming the evil presence in Little Foxes. Director Ed Shea said Sherba has had to learn to tap into her dark side for this role. He's not sure she would have been able to do that three years ago.

"Just watching Gabby, she gets it," said Shea. "The same softness she had for Alexandra she replaced with this incredible hardness. She gets the ruthlessness.

"And I'm glad we are doing the plays in the order we are, because a couple of years ago I'm not sure she would have gotten it. Just three years have made a big difference. By the time you get to be Gabby's age, she's seen that hardness, she knows it."

For Sherba it has been something of a stretch to play such a merciless character.

"It's been a struggle identifying with someone who approaches situations in a way I have never approached situations in my life. She looks at the way someone is going to be hurt by what she does and perfects her weapon.

"I function by identifying with souls and nurturing them. She finds souls and destroys them."

One thing Sherba has had to do in the show is find her own voice as the young Regina. She is not basing her performance on what Fayan did with the role in Little Foxes. She is not trying to be a younger version of that character.

"That was her performance," said Sherba. "It was unique and great. But I've had to find my own Regina, and it's been an awesome journey."

Hellman wrote Another Part of the Forest in 1946, seven years after her Little Foxes. The play takes place in the Deep South of 1880, in a fictitious Alabama town.

Patriarch Marcus Hubbard has made a fortune from profiteering during the Civil War.

"He's not for either side," said Shea. "He's for himself."

But Marcus has a dark past and when his older son Ben learns about it, he threatens to destroy him.

Meanwhile Regina is having an affair with her neighbor, a cavalry officer with emotional scars from the war.

"She is very mercurial," said Shea. "She can turn from coquette to shrew on a dime."

Even though the plots of the two plays are intertwined, Shea said you can see Another Part of the Forest without any knowledge of Little Foxes. Each play stands on its own.

"It's astounding how she has tied them together and that you don't have to know both."

Shea has also made some changes in the performance space at 2nd Story. During the summer, he put on two shows without sets. Actors delivered their lines while parading along an intersecting pine boardwalk, with the audience seated in four wedges that filled the corners of the theater. At the time, Shea said sets tend to get in the way of the writing and become a distraction. Besides, they cost a lot at a time when donations are sure to suffer due to the tanking economy.

But he has changed his mind.

"I get bored," he said.

Now he has built a realistic set for Another Part of the Forest, the facade of the Hubbard's house placed in front of one of the four sections of seats, thus reducing the number of chairs from about 150 to 120.

"That 120 mark is more intimate," said Shea. Once you get up to 150 seats it doesn't feel so intimate. You lose the thing that makes us special."

Shea said he also felt the play called for a realistic set.

"It's beautiful language and all that," he said. "Hellman really can tell a story. But I felt I kind of had to support that story with this background."

Another Part of the Forest opens tomorrow in previews at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St., Warren. Tickets are $10 for previews and $25 for the remaining performances. Call (401) 247-4200. Also subscriptions to 2nd Story's season of five American classics are for sale for $100.

Gabby Sherba, 20, plays Regina Hubbard in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, the prequel to Little Foxes, at 2nd Story Theatre, in Warren. The Providence Journal / Kris Craig [email protected] / (401) 277-7492

Originally published by Channing Gray, Journal Arts Writer.

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