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All sorts of fantastically despicable thoughts and motivations roil beneath the surface of Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play “The Little Foxes,” a classic of American melodrama opening Friday in the Irish Classical Theatre Company’s Andrews Theatre (625 Main St.).

The show, set in 1900 in the deepest part of the Deep South, is a de facto exploration of the many forms ruthless ambition can take and a sort of prototype for every soap opera of the 20th century. The unscrupulous character at its center is Regina Giddens (Josephine Hogan), who embroils herself in a battle with her brothers (Eric Rawski and Robert Rutland) over money and ends up systematically dismantling every relationship in her life. There is hardly anything subtle about this play or its bold, brash and unapologetically devious characters, which accounts for much of its continued popularity among actors and audiences.

In his review of the 1939 premiere, which starred Tallulah Bankhead as Regina, New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson called the play “a deliberate exercise in malice – melodramatic rather than tragic, none too fastidious in its manipulation of the stage and presided over by a Pinero frown of fustian morality.”

The Irish Classical’s production, directed by Greg Natale, runs through Nov. 17. Tickets are $39. Call 853-1380 or visit www.irishclassicaltheatre.org.

– Colin Dabkowski