by Lynn on July 13, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Avon Theatre, Schulick Children’s Plays, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont. until Oct. 29, 2022.

Based on the novels: “Little Women” and “Good Wives” by Louisa May Alcott

Adapted for the stage by Jordi Mand

Directed by Esther Jun

Set by Teresa Przybylski

Costumes by A.W. Nadine Grant

Lighting by Kaileigh Krysztofiak

Sound by Emily C. Porter

Cast: Marion Adler

Brefny Caribou

Allison Edwards-Crewe

Verónica Hortigűela

Stephen Jackman-Torkoff

John Koensgen

Richard Lam

Irene Poole

Rylan Wilkie

Lindsay Wu

Playwright Jordi Mand has taken Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of intense family love that is almost idyllic and given it a modern feel to it. Director Esther Jun has also added her directorial smarts that instills a freshness to the production.

The Story. The first volume (of two) of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, “Little Women” was entitled, “Little Women” and was published in 1868, the second was entitled “Good Wives” and was published in 1869. The story follows the March family and is the story of four sisters – Meg aged 16, Jo, aged 15, Beth, aged 13 and Amy, aged 12.  The book is loosely based on Louisa May Alcott’s life with her three sisters.

The story is set during the American Civil War. The girls and their mother, who they refer to as Marmee, are at home in New England while their paster father is in the South giving religious solace to the Union soldiers. The book tells the story of the sisters’ adventures and life as they grow up. Meg is a governess; Jo wants to be a writer; Beth was so emotionally fragile that going to school for her was not an option so she stayed at home helping her mother tend the household chores; and Amy wants to be an artist. Each sister has their own personalities, sometimes quiet, sometimes boisterous but always caring for each other.

The Production. Teresa Przybylski’s set is fascinating in that the locations in the story have the neon-coloured dazzle that will intrigue kids and it has a certain sophistication that will appeal to adults. For instance, at the top of the set is an outline of building facades that represent the various locations in the story. When the scene is set in one location such as the March home, then the cut-out representing their house at the top is illuminated via Kaileigh Krysztofiak’s lighting. Clever.

Louisa May Alcott’s story of family devotion and selflessness at times seems too good to be true when juxtaposed with the hard, mean irritable times of today, when we have to remind each other constantly to be kind.

There is a scene in the play that takes place at Christmas time and the girls are anxious to tuck into their huge breakfast and are waiting for their Marmee (Irene Poole) to return from doing her charitable obligations. She comes back and tells the girls that there is a terribly poor woman with six children who all sleep in one bed and are freezing and hungry. Marmee suggests that they give up their breakfast except for bread and butter, and take all the food to the poor woman and her children. There is a bit of complaint at this, but reluctantly the girls do what their mother says and they feel better for it. As Marmee, Irene Poole is ever gracious, the diplomat who has to speak reason to her daughters and pass on the sense of charity to them. Poole is lovely as Marmee.

Playwright, Jordi Mand has captured that innocence and decency of the March family but also incorporated that each girl is a person onto themselves: feisty, impatient, selfish, loving, quiet, accommodating and confident to name just a few complex aspects of these four sisters.  Meg is played by Verónica Hortigűela, and is the oldest and most mature of the sisters. There is a calmness and grace to this performance as she tries to be an example to her siblings. Beth is played with fragile sweetness by Brefny Caribou. Beth might have had tender sensibilities, but she also has a sense of herself and her abilities. Amy, the artist, is played by Lindsay Wu with a stubborn streak, a bit of a temper and a touch of selfishness, but there is a watchfulness as well, as one expects of an artist. As Amy’s artistic abilities blossom, so does a calm maturity and even love in the unlikeliest of places.

Jo is the sister who stands out the most. She is played by Allison Edwards-Crewe, with robust confidence and determination. Every thought seems an earnest declaration of how she feels and sees the world. She is impatient with things that are unfair. Patience is a hard thing to grasp for Jo. But one is always reminded with these sisters that they are teenagers and are beautifully played by young adult actors.

The March family’s next-door neighbour is the well-off James Laurence (a kindly John Koensgen). Mr. Laurence gives his piano to Beth because she loved playing it.  His grandson is Laurie Laurence, played by Richard Lam, as unassuming but devoted to the sisters, but especially Jo. One sees the puppy love devotion Laurie has for Jo as they get older and how Jo is conflicted with her friendship for Laurie who wants the friendship to be more. But Jo is determined to be her own person.

Laurie’s tutor is John Brook, played as shy and unassuming by Stephen Jackman-Torkoff. Rounding out the cast is Marion Adler as Aunt March who always seems irritated but generous with her advice, and Rylan Wilkie as Professor Bhaer who is a courtly friend and companion to Jo.

Director Esther Jun has created a beautiful production that harkens back to the old-fashioned ways of 1860 but also adds a dash of 2022. At a party attended by two of the sisters some of the music played is rock music and the dancing is as carefree and wild as one expects of such music. After we have experienced this classic of stories, Jun has her cast take their bows to rock music. They walk from upstage to downstage with verge, energy and attitude—there is nothing staid or polite about this bow. The actors then give a personal movement-riff of a bow. Very contemporary for a story written in 1860.

Jun also realizes the beauty and quietness of scenes. In one of the two weddings the bride walks to the church to while the Canon in D by Pachelbel is played, which is lovely enough. But at certain points in the bride’s slow walk a gentle burst of rose petals falls from the flies. It’s not a constant burst. She walks two steps and then there is a burst of petals, then two more steps and more petals. Timing the bursts instead of there being a constant shower of petals is smart and unexpected. Esther Jun’s direction is smart, impish, thoughtful, with unexpected surprises and ultimately lovely in serving the play.

Comment. As Jordi Mand did with her previous play: Brontë: The World Without (the rich story of the Brontë sisters as they try to make a living as writers, all those years ago), Jordi Mand puts the audience for Little Women in two worlds—the world of the March family more than 200 years ago, and the world of today, where each sister resonates with a modernity we can all recognize. Esther Jun’s vibrant production captures that duality, beautifully as well.   

The Stratford Festival presents:

Plays until: Oct. 29, 2022.

Running Time: 3 hours. (1 intermission)

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