Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is so beloved a morsel of American literary optimism that it would be hard to do badly with an adaptation of the 1868 novel. And there have been numerous ones, from films to an opera and a musical.
ALL IN THE FAMILY Westgate and Crews.
But rather than present just another adorable depiction of the March sisters, 2nd Story Theatre has come up with quite a novel take, thanks to Bob Colonna's direction of his imaginative adaptation (through December 11).
It's being billed as a special holiday event, since the story begins with an act of typical kindness: one Christmas morning their mother Margaret, whom they call Marmee (Rae Mancini), learns that a nearby destitute family has nothing to eat, and the girls willingly give up their holiday breakfast, marching down the road with their steaming Christmas gifts.
Colonna's thoughtful staging allows for a striking and entertaining image from that freezing family's home, which being incidental is normally never depicted: the children's heads, all in a shivering row, blanket pulled to chins. That works because it takes hardly more than a finger snap of time before the ensemble reassembles into a new configuration.
What keeps this production so lively is that flexibility. As announced on a banner before the action begins, with the cast milling about and chatting, this is a community theater presentation "of selected passages" of the novel, with Miss Alcott herself (Elise Arsenault) occasionally narrating and playing cameo bits. Proceeds are to benefit the Concord School of Philosophy (the Rev. Mister Bronson Alcott, Founder).
Although there are plenty of long, fully developed scenes, especially in the second act, the staging device propels the action with brief exchanges when longer ones aren't required. Beth (young, Kimberly Dalton; older, Erin Sheehan) has a passion for music, which is established when we first see her with a worn paper and box-cardboard piano keyboard on her lap. Feisty, hot-tempered Jo (Sara D'Angelos, Kristina Drager), mutters,"I can't get over my disappointment at not being a boy," and we have her pegged. Oldest daughter Meg (Sophie Cram, Allison Crews), 16 at the beginning, is the beauty of the lot and the most responsible. Amy (Patricia Kinnane, Valerie Westgate) is the youngest and most childish, blossoming into the most fun-loving when they get older. The actors switch in the second act, the time transition being that their mother is still away nursing their father, a chaplain wounded in the Civil War.
Meg and Jo, being the two oldest, are the first to enter fine society, their introduction being a neighbor's dance. Not being as sociable as her sister, Jo remains a wallflower until she is rescued by an equally nervous Theodore Laurence (Evan Kinnane, Nicholas Thibeault), who is called Laurie. He is in the care of his wealthy grandfather and, with no more than the old man for company, he becomes attached to Jo as a friend. Putting aside her antisocial pose, Jo is fascinated by the unpretentious 16-year-old world traveler and his milieu. (She gazes around in awe in his grandfather's library as the ensemble turns into furniture and books.)