LITTLE WOMENBy Kate Hamill
Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Dallas Theater Center
Directed by Sarah Rasmussen
Scenic Designer – Wilson Chin
Costume Designer – Moria Sine Clinton
Lighting Designer – Marcus Dillard
Sound Designer – Sean Healey
Wig and Make-Up Designer – Earon Chew Nealey
Composer – Robert Elhai
Dramaturg – Kristin Leahey
Movement Coach – Joel Ferrell
Assistant Director – Stakiah Washington
Assistant Lighting Designer – Jessica Drayton
Fight Direction, Intimacy Coach – Ashley H. White
Dialect Coach – Anne Schilling
Fight Captain – Mike Sears*
Production Stage Manager – Megan Winters*
Interim Director of Production – Frank Butler
Artistic Producer – Sarahbeth Grossman
Assistant Stage Manager – Emily Burke*
Production Assistant – Ashley Oliver
Stage Manager Observer – Claire Boschert
Casting – Kelly Gillespie, CSA
Robert March - Andrew W. Crowe*
Meg March - Jennie Greenberry*
Amy March - Lilli Hokama*
Laurie Laurence - Louis Reyes McWilliams*
Marmie - Liz Mikel*
John Brooks, Parrot - Alex Organ*
Jo March - Pearl Rhein*
Mr. Laurence, Mr. Dashwood - Mike Sears*
Beth March - Maggie Thompson*
Hannah, Mrs. Mingott, Aunt March - Sally Nystuen Vahle*
Reviewed Performance: 2/12/2020
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The play revolves, literally and figuratively, around the hearth and home of the March family. The story describes the struggles of a loving family of six, all children being daughters. War torn America is the backdrop for family separation, sacrifice, injury, and infirmity.
The play covers a lot of ground, tracing the March clan’s travails and triumphs throughout several years and even introducing another generation. The direction and staging are complex, and yet seamlessly executed. Theater goers familiar with DTC’s classical productions at the Kalita will recognize the clever, visually stimulating employment of the revolving stage. In this production, some cast members magically stay in place while others travel with the moving tide; the staging is both captivating and impressive.
Little Women is widely regarded as semi-autographical. The book’s author, Alcott, was one of four girls. Dallas Theater Center’s production embraces the different personalities of the four “little women” protagonists. The promotional photographs mark the distinctions, labeling Meg as devoted, Jo as bold, Beth as virtuous, and Amy as magnetic. The second child, Jo (Pearl Rhein), is the focus, as she pushes against tyrannical societal expectations imposed upon women.
Jo’s rebellion against the femininity of the times is open to interpretation. We first see her in an obviously fake mustache with her long skirt adjusted to resemble pantaloons. This might be understood as her stage acting, as Jo writes and directs sisterly productions starring herself as the male lead. Modern audiences in particular can understand anyone preferring a sensible pair of trousers to the floor-length, amply pleated skirts worn by Nineteenth Century women, so when Jo finally gets a pair of pants, it is almost something of a relief. Jo’s wardrobe choices might also be understood as a more permanent embrace of masculinity.
Rhein’s Jo is both magnetic and sympathetic. Rhein does a great job of portraying Jo’s energy and (so-called) “boldness” as inherently who Jo is, rather than a deliberate act of rebellion. It is a charismatic performance.
Jo and Amy (Lilli Hokama) spar throughout the play, mostly to great humor (e.g., Amy has a terrible case of “the moron”). Malaprops trill off Amy’s lips, and their interpretation is a running joke. Amy undergoes the most obvious transformation during the play’s time span, and Hokama’s character shift is impressive. She vividly portrays Amy’s initial immaturity, and ultimately, the older Amy’s harsh pragmatism. Hokama also reveals without words Amy’s unrequited love.
Rhein and Louis Reyes McWilliams, as the wealthy neighbor Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, have fun chemistry as fast friends and kindred spirits. Laurie assures Jo that he wants her “just as you are,” calling her “old fellow” for good measure. The play teases with the question of whether their powerful comradery will, or will not, blossom into romance.
The ever-magnificent Liz Mikel is the perfect mix of commanding and empathetic as the family matriarch, Marmie. Mikel’s Marmie earns laughs with a perfectly expressive glare. In ordering the temporary expulsion of one daughter after a particularly recalcitrant misdeed, Mikel exhibits Marmie’s graceful authority, and we sympathize with the challenging balancing act facing a matriarch presiding over dueling children.
Meg March (Jennie Greenberry) charms as the dutiful and beautiful oldest sister. Greenberry is adroit in the dance scenes, as Meg comically flounders without her glasses. She thoroughly convinces when Meg has a mini-breakdown triggered by a never-ending tide of domestic duties. It is a tricky scene, as the text flirts with the question of how much Meg lost it while caring for twins, and Greenberry masterfully calibrates her performance; a lessor actor would overdo it here.
The courtship between Meg and John Brooks (Alex Organ) is sweetly played. Organ’s Brooks exudes quiet dignity, and he is simultaneously vulnerable while possessing an inner strength. It is a touching and poignant performance (he dances with a limp).
Beth (Maggie Thompson) is repeatedly described as the March family’s conscience (although the March brood seems pretty virtuous to me). Beth’s acts of charity expose her to a deadly illness. Thompson’s skillful sick bed performance is moving, and she convinces as an innately shy person who has something important to say. Beth has always understood that nothing lasts forever.
The ever-talented Sally Nystuen Vahle bristles with humorous haughtiness as the wealthy, close-minded Aunt March. Here and elsewhere, Vahle delivers robust comic relief. Andrew Crowe plays the patriarch, Robert March, with suitable gravitas. He also treats the audience to live string music.
For Little Women, the Kalita Humphreys stage is transformed to present the vibe of an historical theater. The wood framing of the house towers above a central fireplace. A painting of Orchard House hangs above the mantel. The stage is round, and the curved back drop features wallpaper with a decorative design that is not too busy to interfere with frequent scene changes. The numerous changes in setting are also facilitated by movable chandeliers and curtains. The period piece furniture features a chaise lounge that converts to Beth’s sick bed. These numerous physical transformations are quickly and smoothly executed.
The often elaborate period costumes appear authentic down to the last detail. The lighting design successfully facilitates the setting transitions. The sound design allows the audience to enjoy the live string music.
I enjoyed sitting by theater students from Moisés E. Molina High School on opening night. This production kept the audience’s rapt attention, including theirs. I highly recommend DTC’s production of Little Women for the exquisite acting, unparalleled portrayal of close-knit family chemistry, and high production quality.
Dallas Theater Center
February 7 through March 1, 2020
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, TX 75219
For information and Tickets call (214) 522-8499 or go to https://www.dallastheatercenter.org/show/little-women/.