'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott and Adapted for the Stage by Jordi Mand
A World Premiere of A Stratford Festival Commission at The Avon Theatre
Evolvement and change are good things going forward in the theatre. Risk-taking remains part of the opportunities artists must take for growth, and they must be willing to face head-on challenges in the creation.
As part of a Stratford Festival Commission, Jordi Mand has adapted for the stage Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women’ (based on the novels LITTLE WOMEN and GOOD WIVES). Once again, sadly, I’m sharing how during my four-year undergraduate degree I never had the chance to read this classic American tale and had no interest just as Director Esther Jun stated in her Programme Notes. I concur that I too thought it was a ‘girlie’ book. I haven’t seen any of the film adaptations either, so I brought no connection to this Stratford commission of an American fiction coming-of-age classic.
It is 1862 and we meet the four March girls: Jo (Allison Edwards-Crewe), Beth (Brefny Caribou), Amy (Lindsay Wu) and Meg (Veronica Hortiguela). Jo wants to be a writer. The emotional and sickly Beth helps her mother around the house. Amy is an artist and Meg is a governess. ‘Little Women’ is a coming-of-age story where the girls experience many life events under the watchful eyes of their mother Marmee (Irene Poole) and their Aunt March (Marion Adler), a wealthy widow. The girls are doing what they can to help their mother while their father is away serving in the Civil War. Supporting characters enter and exit their lives and we see how this family learns to face life.
Initial response after seeing ‘Little Women’?
The noteworthy diverse casting and focused modern updating remain central to this world premiere commission for discerning twenty-first-century audience tastes.
Does the play work?
It smartly does as Director Esther Jun determinedly establishes a bold and fresh new visionary look with Mand’s adaptation where the past and present are masterly intertwined. This clever juxtaposition made me want to pay attention to the unfolding of the story.
For example, at the New Year’s party where there is dancing, ironically the actors do not move in a genteel fashion as would be expected of the period. Instead, the music playing is rock music and the actors move accordingly which is most definitely a sight to behold. I also loved the curtain call at the end. Here the actors do not assume a professional pose before they take their bow. Instead, they ‘strike a pose’ (a la Madonna), gyrate and wave their arms in the air before the bow.
Different? Absolutely! Stylistic? Yes! Is it worth the time to see it? Yes!
As a certified Ontario secondary school teacher of English (now retired), it was integral for me to connect themes and messages of classic works to the students’ lives. Otherwise, lessons could become dull, uninspiring and a chore to labour through. This ‘Little Women’ is neither dull, uninspiring nor laborious. I would heartily recommend teachers to bring students to see this production if they have studied the novel. If you just simply like the story, I encourage you to see this new adaptation.
Many young people were sitting around me at the performance I saw. The girls to my right were talking about the novel at the intermission so I’m having to assume they have read the book. Right on! I also heard them talking about the costumes and how that’s what they saw in their minds so kudos to costume designer A. W. Nadine Grant for the beautiful creations. Teresa Przybylski’s fluidly moving set designs magically unfolded before me.
At the top of the show, we are introduced to Jo (Allison Edwards-Crewe), the up-and-coming writer of the March family. Edwards-Crewe dressed in comfortable modern-day clothes speaks to the audience in character. Throughout her conversation, she pulls period piece costumes out from a trunk in front of her. Two of her sisters enter dressed in modern clothes but begin to play around with some of the period pieces of this 1860s-era fashion. As the story continues, off comes the modern clothing and on go the stylistic dresses. Quite fascinating to watch this process.
Edwards-Crewe is most likeable in the role of the central narrator. Her Jo is resolute and confident in the goal she has set for herself to become a writer. The hot and cold sisterly affection Jo feels for the nice boy, Laurie Laurence (Richard Lam) who adores the hot-headed daughter remains consistently palpable throughout. When Laurie asks Jo to marry him and she turns him down, Lam’s facial responses humanely and believably reveal the hurt and sadness he feels internally because she kept toying with his emotions. But Jo is determined to be in control all the time and wants to make her own decisions in life. That’s why Rylan Wilkie’s sturdy Professor Bhaer wins Jo’s affections and she agrees to marry him because it’s her decision.
Lindsay Wu’s Amy and Veronica Hortiguela’s Meg believably create two distinct versions of ‘little women’ as the girls’ father used to call them. Wu’s Amy steadfastly remains a ‘little lady’ and behaves properly. Wu effectively contrasts her performance as Amy when in one brief scene she amusingly plays snob Annie Moffatt at a New Year’s party. As Meg, Hortiguela visibly reveals her growing affection for John Brooke (a unique take by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff which made me pay close attention to where they would take the character to the next level). As the sickly Beth, Befny Caribou brings a sweet sentimentality to the kind, caring gentle daughter who will ultimately change the lives of those around here as the story continues.
As the matriarch of the family, Irene Poole delivers a charming performance as Marmee. Poole initially reveals a tough, take charge of the household mentality in the absence of her husband during the Civil War. But Poole also shows a compassionate, motherly figurehead, especially in Beth’s growing illness.
Marion Adler is palatably caustic, biting and sarcastic as Aunt March. John Koensgen’s James Laurence strongly reminds us of the goodness that exists in people when times are extremely hard.
Final Comments: A lovely adaptation of the classic story of the importance of family and how they will always be there as we move forward, mature and move along in our lives. In our world right now where it is difficult to define what it means to be a woman, this ‘Little Women’ captures the sweetness, the joy, the bonds, the heartache, the pain and the happiness that women can immediately sense with each other in their bonding as sisters.
The production runs for approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The production runs to October 29 at the Avon Theatre. For tickets, www.stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600.
A World Premiere of a Stratford Festival Commission and Schulich’s Plays
Based on the novels ‘Little Women’ and ‘Good Wives’ by Louisa May Alcott with adaptation for the stage by Jordi Mand
Directed by Esther Jun
Produced by David Auster
Set Designer: Teresa Przybylski
Costume Designer: A. W. Nadine Grant
Lighting Designer: Kailiegh Krysztoflak
Sound Designer: Emily C. Porter
Cast: Marion Adler, Brefny Caribou, Allison Edwards-Crewe, Veronic Hortiguela, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, John Koensgen, Richard Lam, Irene Poole, Rylan Wilkie Lindsay Wu.