Saturday, June 4, 2022

"Little Women" at Lyric Arts

NYC-based playwright and actor Kate Hamill is known for her modern, feminist adaptations of classics, several of which have been seen on #TCTheater stages in recent years. The Guthrie will premiere her adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma later this month, but first: Lyric Arts' production of her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel Little Womencommissioned by the Jungle Theater a few years ago. This quote from Kate's website very much applies to this play: "She is deeply passionate about creating new feminist, female-centered classics, both in new plays and in adaptation: stories that center around complicated women. Her work as a playwright celebrates theatricality, often features absurdity, and closely examines social and gender issues - as well as the timeless struggle to reconcile conscience / identity with social pressures." This, as they say, is not your grandmother's Little Women. While staying fairly true to the events of the novel, the play sees the characters and situations through a modern lens, and veers more towards comedy, at times broad and absurd, than the quiet drama of the original. But at its heart, it's still about the love between four very different sisters, each finding her own identity and path through life (click here for info and tickets).

This adaptation includes most of the moments and characters we know and love, if in a bit of a compressed form. The story stops before Jo goes off to the big city (and gets married) and Amy goes to Europe (and gets married), which seems appropriate to the focus of the piece and keeps the story briskly moving at just over two hours. Appropriate because each little woman has her complete arc - Meg finding herself again after motherhood, Amy growing up (a little) and making amends with her sisters, Jo finding her voice and finally writing a "real" story, and Beth... well, we know how her arc ends (#bringtissues). The four sisters really are the centerpiece of the story, around which revolve several other characters including their beloved Marmee, trusty maid/cook/second mother Hannah, their mostly absent father, charming neighbor boy Laurie, his stern but tender-hearted grandfather, and Meg's suitor John.*

Marmee and her "little women"
(photo by Molly Weibel)
Under director Elena Giannetti, the strong cast plays all of the highs and lows of the emotions of the story. The four sisters are well-cast and feel like a family, equal parts affection and annoyance: Antonia Perez is a passionate and confident Jo, while still playing her insecurities and her tender love for her sisters; Marci Lucht gives a great monologue as Meg about the difficulties of being a young mother that gets a round of applause; Grace Jones is appropriately bratty as spoiled young Amy, perhaps exhibiting a bit of growth and maturity at the end; and Nina Aguilera Araya is sweet and lovely as Beth, the heart of the family. The cast also includes Deryck Hak as a charming Laurie; understudy Jack Bonko as the "stuffy" John and a parrot (in the absurd comedy portion of the show); Fjaere Harder with two completely opposite performances as the warm and maternal Marmee and the vicious Aunt March; and Mary Cutler and Glen Stone playing multiple characters, often in quick succession.

The charmingly rustic two-level set of the comfortable but not fancy March home features wooden beams that support the attic, with a brick chimney extending through both stories, a glowing fireplace on each. Other locations are represented in front of the set with the addition of a few set pieces or decorations. The cast is dressed in modest period costumes, lots of full skirts, with Jo notably wearing pants through most of the show (scenic design by MJ Leffler, costume design by Bronson Talcott).

This adaptation puts more emphasis on the strict gender roles of the time (which are different today, but often still strictly defined), and the way that Jo, and even Laurie, don't fit into them. This idea was always there in Alcott's story, but we see it in a new light now with our increased understanding of the fluidity of gender identity and the many different ways there are to be a woman, little or otherwise.*

a publicity photo of the "little women" in happier times
Grace Jones (Amy), Marci Lucht (Meg), Nina Aguilera Araya (Beth), and Antonia Perez (Jo)
photo credit: Molly Weibel