Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: FEBRUARY 26, 2010
Don’t you love getting together with old friends? No matter how much time has gone by, it seems like only a minute has passed between visits. You slip right back into a comfortable and comforting interaction; the familiarity feels warm and embracing.
So, you’re going to savor your time with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy… the Little Women created by Louisa May Alcott in 1868. The wildly popular novel was loosely based on the writer’s own homelife with her three sisters. Their destitute conditions in Concord , Mass. are what drove Alcott to write, to help support the family. Clearly, her irrepressible creation, Jo, the energetic tomboy, budding feminist, imaginative fantasist and emerging writer, is the author’s stand-in.
Two years ago, North Coast Repertory Theatre commissioned playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger to create an adaptation of the beloved classic. Now, the world premiere has arrived, and it’s a delightful sojourn with cherished acquaintances. The novel was originally published in two parts, and the play covers many of the episodes in part one, framed within one year, from Christmas to Christmas. That’s enough time for the girls to meet their wealthy neighbor, Laurie, who’s a wonderfully vigorous and inventive companion to Jo. It’s sufficient time for Laurie’s tutor to fall for Meg, for Father to become seriously ill while serving in the Civil War; for Amy to go off to study art in Paris ; and for one of the sisters to die. Did I ruin it for you? I hope not. That’s one of the most unforgettable moments in the book.
The play’s focus is on love and family, and the power of good works and heavy doses of imagination. But it’s not all sweetness and sentimental treacle. There’s jealousy and competition, the girls fight and yell at each other; and, I was happy to see, even the eternally stalwart and upbeat Marmee confesses her own barely-controlled anger problem. Each of the March girls struggles with a major character flaw: Meg’s pride and envy, Jo’s volatility and temper, Beth’s debilitating shyness and Amy’s vanity and selfishness. In this outstanding ensemble, each of the actors crafts a clear portrait and each is endearing in her own way. The men are excellent, too.
The production is superb. The comfy but threadbare parlor, nicely lit, rotates to create varied playing spaces. The costumes are lovely. And it’s all expertly directed by Kirsten Brandt, former artistic director of Sledgehammer Theatre. A few scenes feel a trifle rushed, but the overall effect is both nostalgic and timeless. War-time, hard times, sibling rivalry, family unity. We’ll always have a soft-spot in our hearts for our Little Women.
“Little Women” continues through 3/14 at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
©2010 PAT LAUNER