by Vicki Paris Goodman
Best to see Little Women– the play– with no expectations. It’s not quite the same as Louisa May Alcott’s novel, nor is it very much like any of the movie versions.
If you are dying to witness the passion of young neighbor gent Laurie for the fiercely independent Jo, it doesn’t exist in the play. If you can’t wait to savor the slow brew of flowering love between Jo and her European professor friend, alas you’ll be disappointed there, too.
Little Women the play, certainly based on Alcott’s book, and dramatized by Kristen Laurence, instead focuses on the relationships of the four sisters and their mother Marmee. Trying times, and the circumstance of girls growing into young women, supply the conflict and angst that drive the action. Of course, Alcott deftly gave distinct personalities to each of the sisters, which helps lift this stage rendition up from the depths of ho hum. But just.
The thing is, nothing much happens in this play. Oh, there’s Beth’s illness and Marmee’s being called away to tend to her sick army officer husband. Jo and Amy have a terrible spat. But I wanted more. And much of the dialogue, presumably meant to inspire, comes off in saccharine platitudes, sounding more practiced than heartfelt.
With a Jo (Danielle Keaton) who is immature and a bit prissy, and an Amy (Hayley Jackson) who is far too babyish, the odd interpretation begs the question as to whether director Dale Jones has ever read the book.
Sisters Meg (Megan Harvey) and Beth (Devri Richmond) are better cast. Lainie King delivers an optimistic and comforting, if somewhat stilted, Marmee. Carmen Tunis’ bossy and chronically disgruntled Aunt March is just perfect, igniting all of her scenes. Housekeeper Hannah fares well in the hands of Shannon Shaw.
A couple of peculiarities proved entertaining, if not fitting. For one, actress Mary Huse’s Sallie pays Amy a brief visit, eliciting lots of chuckles with her Glinda-the-Good-Witch-meets-Baba-Wawa conversational style. And Aunt Caroll (Cheryl Hansen) was just plain weird.
Yet Little Women somehow held my attention start to finish. Still, when the play ended, I thought, is that all there is?
The inconsistency of characterizations and lack of a pay-off notwithstanding, set designer Greg Fritsche’s Victorian-era parlor was drop dead gorgeous. Mark Travis Hoyer’s wig designs were outstanding.
If only I’d never read the book; if only I’d never seen the movies…
Little Women continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through January 17 (the Playhouse will be closed for the holidays from December 14 through January 1). General admission tickets are $22.00; $20.00 for seniors. Student tickets are $12.00 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, with Sunday matinees on December 7, January 4 and 11 at 2 pm. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at www.lbph.com.