As the Hubbard siblings ruthlessly deceive each other throughout The Little Foxes, their loyal house staff Cal and Addie witness the familial backstabbing from the sideline. During a recent break from performances actor Dexter Zollicoffer shared his thoughts on playing Cal the butler.
What were your first impressions of The Little Foxes?
When I first read the play it reminded me of the old movies I’d watch late at night when I was a kid because it has big emotions, a strong plot and is centered around a family dynamic. I wasn’t initially familiar with The Little Foxes, but I saw a wonderful production of [prequel] Another part of the Forest a few years back and knew that The Little Foxes deals with many of the same characters.
How did you initially feel about your character and the role he plays in the story?
I initially was drawn to the character because it was a smaller role and sometimes, as an actor, you’re really looking for a smaller role. I tried my best to resist any "steppin/fetcing" type characterizations. I also understood that being a "colored" butler in a big house at the turn of the 20th century would have been considered a great job.
While the topics discussed in The Little Foxes still feel contemporary (family sabotage, greed, social injustice), it can be difficult to watch the attitudes and actions of white people towards people of color during this period in history. How did you approach this tension in the rehearsal room and on stage?
I have to say that I felt no tension in the rehearsal room. We had all read the script and knew the territory we’d be playing in. I actually respect Hellman's script because she allows the characters to use the "n" word because it would have felt inauthentic if those particular characters didn’t.
From where did you draw inspiration for your role?
I often thought about when this play was first produced in 1939. Black actors would have "killed" for the roles of Addie and Cal. Even though the characters are servants, Hellman still found a way to give them their own opinions and thoughts about the actions of their employers.
Have you imagined backstories for Addie and Cal? Perhaps their history with the Hubbards or their future after the play concludes?
I think the production gives Addie a clear future at the end of the play. Cal’s future is a bit more uncertain, but I imagine he’s biding his time until he can figure out a way to move on. He’ll only have to wait about 10 more years until that first migration of African Americans moving to the North. I fantasize that Cal will eventually become a Pullman train porter.
Addie and Cal are supporting characters to the story, but they showcase family/staff dynamics of the time period and also show some sense of a moral compass in a very immoral household. How have you chosen to bring the character forward within the family drama of the play?
By always remembering that Addie and Cal are real people, with real emotions and opinions. Just because they don’t say things, they hear and see everything and say as much as the conventions of the times would permit.
|Shannon Cochran (Regina Giddens), Michael Canavan (William Marshall), Mary Beth Fisher (Birdie Hubbard), Dan Waller (Leo Hubbard), Dexter Zollicoffer (Cal), Steve Pickering (Oscar Hubbard) and Rae Gray (Alexandra “Zan” Giddens) in The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman, directed by Henry Wishcamper