Monday, December 16, 2019

Margin Notes: Little Women

Rachel Schmeling as Jo.
Photo by Allison Stock.

Seen on: Sunday, 12/15/19.
My grade: A-

Plot and Background
Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre presents a new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel about the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, as they grow and mature into adults.

What I Knew Beforehand
I had earlier reviewed Hedgepig's production of All's Well That Ends Well, and this is my third theatrical adaptation of a novel I still haven't read (yeah, yeah, don't @ me).


Play: You enter the March home through a set of double doors to see a lovely wood-paneled room with tall curtained windows, a (fake) fire burning merrily in the fireplace and a modest, popcorn trimmed tree against the opposite wall. You're encouraged to join the March sisters in making holiday cards at the large, comfortable table in the center, or to help Jo and Meg hang boughs with red bows from the wall sconces. You sip from your cup of eggnog (or wine, or cocoa), munch a cookie, and wait for the show to begin. It's cheery and festive, without decadence. This new adaptation of Alcott's novel prioritizes the importance of home and of these four sisters and their mother in that home, and so it makes sense that the audience should also be welcomed into the family. Although the spell of making us all Marches (which I suspect was their goal) isn't quite achieved, an intimacy with the family and its private concerns mostly is. Beth is the audience's confidant: the heart of the March family and content to stay at home (and a bit fearful of larger society), Beth tells us of her sisters and their dreams, and helps shift us forward in time as the play dictates. While the narration itself is often clunky, I accept it as a necessary evil with this at-home version of the story, and with Jo, Meg, Amy, and Marmee flitting in and out of doors while Beth remains with us. The audience is invited to join in on select carols throughout the play (sing-along lyrics included in the program), as we share in the family's joy and pain. This is a largely successful production, efficiently told and ably performed. It's a bit too easy for the balance of the story to tip to favor Jo, but the play works hard to give equal space to her siblings, including Amy's time quarantined away from Beth's fever, and Meg's jelly episode; though Beth, with her piano covered in cloth dolls, seems more infantilized than she is sometimes played.

Cast: This is an intimately cast production, with Laurie, John, and even Mr. March all offstage presences, watched through a window but never brought into our home. Instead we have only the March sisters and their matriarch--but they are more than enough, and the fact that we see only them emphasizes the primary importance of their relationships with each other. Rachel Schmeling channels the spitfire of Jo, unafraid to mercilessly mock Amy, but fiercely loyal in defense of her family. Sara Hymes's Meg is sweet and caring, finding new strength in herself as she is tested. Samanthia Nixon's Amy strikes the perfect balance of obnoxious and endearing, and it's taking me a long time but I may eventually understand how one could forgive her for burning Jo's manuscript (we'll see). Ashley Kristeen Vega's Beth is unfortunately a bit one-note (and I think not always the correct note), but the watchful and loving way she observed her family is endearing. Presiding over her children, Desiree Baxter brings her reliable steady presence and a warm heart to Marmee, though the role is a bit underwritten and in lesser hands that would be more obvious.

Design: Tekla Monson does lovely subtle work with scenic and prop design, taking advantage of the warm wood of the space, adding holiday decor for the season, and establishing individual stations to which each March sister may retreat: Beth's piano, Jo's desk with books, Amy's drawing tablet. If Meg's station is less specific, perhaps it's that her concerns are less prop-activated than the others. Kayla Page's costume design is gorgeous and well-made, flattering the style of each girl, specific and sumptuous.


Running: Now playing at South Oxford Space (Hedgepig Ensemble Theatre) - Opening: December 13, 2019. Closing: December 22, 2019.
Category: experiential play with music
Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Created & Adapted by: Brooke Viegut
Written by: Molly Horan & Emily Drossell
Director: Brooke Viegut
Designers: Lauren Jackson (Production Stage Manager), Tekla Monson (Scenic & Property), Kayla Page (Costume), Saima Huq & Lila Klatz (Production Assistants), Olivia Williamson (Voice/Text Coach), Mike Magliocca (Fight Director), Charlotte Ahlin (Illustrator), Jarrett Reiche (Casting Director).
Cast: Desiree Baxter, Sara Hymes, Samanthia Nixon, Rachel Schmeling, Ashley Kristeen Vega, Madeline Addis.

Samanthia Nixon, Ashley Kristeen Vega, Rachel Schmeling, Desiree Baxter,
and Sara Hymes as Amy, Beth, Jo, Marmee, and Meg. Photo by Allison Stock.

No comments:

Post a Comment