Preview: Little Women
Players Present Little Women
by Bob McLaughlin and John Lieder
Community Players will begin 2019 with a stage version of an American classic: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Alcott was the daughter of the improvident philosopher and educator Bronson Alcott. Growing up, she interacted with many of her father’s brilliant friends, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but her father’s impracticality also meant that she had to work from an early age to help support the family. In addition to working as a teacher, governess, seamstress, and maid, she earned money by writing, primarily books and stories for children and, under a pen name, bloody sensation novels. When her publisher, Thomas Niles, suggested that she write a novel for girls, Alcott only reluctantly agreed, and then complained about how little she enjoyed writing it. However, when the first volume of Little Women was published in 1868, it was so successful the publisher couldn’t keep up with the demand. The second volume was published the next year, and she eventually added two sequels, Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).
Loosely based on Alcott’s own life and family, Little Women tells the story of the four March sisters as they make the transition from girlhood to adulthood. Jo, based on Louisa, is tomboyish, ambitious, and resistant to traditional expectations for women. Meg, the oldest, is the family beauty and the most conventional of the sisters. Beth is shy, mild-tempered, and self-sacrificing. Amy, the youngest, is artistic, but also vain and selfish. They are guided through many trivial and turbulent tribulations by their mother, affectionately known as Marmee, who is a moral lighthouse, keeping them all on course.
Little Women has never lost the popularity that greeted its initial publication. Generations of adolescent girls have read and re-read the novel, holding one or another of the March sisters up as a role model. It has also had a vibrant life in other media. There have been eight film adaptations of the novel, including two silent versions and a new version scheduled to be released later this year. It has been filmed for television several times, including a multipart BBC version that was broadcast on Masterpiece Theater last year. The Houston Grand Opera commissioned an opera adaptation in 1998, and in 2005 a musical version opened on Broadway. Little Women has been adapted for the stage many times, including a 1912 version by Marian de Forest, which, when it was produced in London, made a star of Katharine Cornell, who played Jo. Community Players will present a new adaptation by Marisha Chamberlain.
Our production has a marvelous cast, featuring a heartfelt and energetic performance from Breeann Dawson as Jo March. She is solidly supported by Kayla Jo Pulliam, Abby Naden, and Lianna Benjamin as the other “little women,” her sisters Meg, Amy, and Beth. They are joined in the March household by Joann Yant as Marmee March, Vickie Snyder as the servant, Hannah, and Chuck Pettigrew as Father March. Samuel James Willis and Joe Culpepper play neighbors Laurie and Mr. Laurence, Nathan Gaik plays Mr. Brooke, and Jennifer Maloy plays stern old Aunt March.
The play has two acts and nearly a dozen scenes. Director Marcia Weiss keeps things moving at a quick pace. She has selected appropriate incidental and entr’acte music to give some added “flavor” to this period piece.
Chris Terven is producer as well as the scenic designer and master builder. The action of the play takes place in the March’s austere yet comfortable living room and attic. The set and set pieces work well along with Opal Virtue‘s costume design to transport the audience to 1860’s New England.
Director Weiss is also assisted by Sharon Russell as assistant director, Eli Mundy as sound designer, Mark Wright as lighting designer, and Jen Bethman as properties master. Ashleigh Feger is stage manager and Jeanne Howard is house manager.
Little Women is unequivocally appropriate for the whole family. The harshest expletive uttered is a hearty “Christopher Columbus!” The emotional bonds that the members of the March family have for each other are nearly palpable and provide a substantial helping of some good old “chicken soup” for the soul.
The pay-what-you-can Preview performance is January 10, with only six regular performances: January 11-13 and 18-20. Evening performances are at 7:30 with Sunday matinees at 2:30.
Photos by John Lieder.