|The Concord Journal||Thur, May 14, 1992|
|'Little Women' adaptation a classic made for our times|
|By David A. Henshaw|
"Christopher Columbus, how plummy" Thus does Jo accept the happy events in her life, in the new adaptation of "Little Women" by the Concord Players, and we can join with her in appreciating our own good fortune in the latest representation in their decadal observance of Louisa May Alcott's classic.
Particularly heartwarming was the mutually affirmative response given by the senior citizens and the young girls attending the performance. The simpler times and positive outlook of the piece sat well with both generations, and reflect not only the Players' (and New England's) sense of heritage and the classics, but the basic truths of the story being told.
David Fielding Smith's newest rending of the tale moves fluidly, as does Dorothy Schecter's direction. As warned by Jo in the opening, the scene shifts easily between locales and events, while the cast successfully treads the line between caricature and period pretension and posing. The addition of a dancing sextet for the party sequences adds to the flavor of the times.
The set by Geoffrey Hill is a marvelous combination of detail and simplicity: from the red fireplace and antimacassars to ceiling beams framing the central room (sans side walls) all adds to the period without confining. The bust in the niche and many period furnishings establish the times without overwhelming; the garlands set out during the opening define the season and the prop trunk for their Christmas play leads simply to the trunks in the attic of Jo's poem.
Much of the credit for the production's success must go to the fine cast assembled for the 1992 incarnation. Outstanding in the role of Jo is Kate Clarke, who moves seamlessly between raconteur and audience confidante, distraught director of Christmas plays and teen-age sister, semi-confident authoress and realist. Her confident performance is well matched by the other girls. Christine Shields ably portrays the eldest sister with appropriate calmness and delightful Victorian jitters at an anticipated proposal from Mr. Brooke.
As the younger siblings Amy and Beth, Kara Jenkins and Sara McMains alternately compete and console, pout and posture; all manage the transition of years into Act II without problem. Allan Maki also does a fine job developing Laurie's character as he matures into a romance with Amy and reaches his final understanding with Jo.
As the two older women in the play, Jan Turnquist and Joan Wood turn in solid performances. Jan's Marmee is everything one would want in a mother: concerned, loving yet firm. Her attic dialogue with Jo is quite touching' she is obviously committed to her relationship with her daughters. Aunt March is depicted by Ms. Wood as the archetype cantankerous old made aunt, always showing the concern which underlies her dicta.
The men are equally comfortable in their roles, with Christopher Davies similarly capturing the heart beneath the otherwise gruff exterior of Mr. Lawrence, and Bill Maxwell's finely controlled Prof. Bhaer. The latter's scene with Joe, as he quietly upbraids her romantic stories is a lesson in understatement. As young Laurie's tutor and Meg's suitor, Dave Sheppard neatly combines proper reserve with an underlying ardor. William Kussin's news magnate's brusque demeanor and Lenny Megliola's quiet father also nicely set off the actions of the story.
The lighting for the show always enhanced the action, with subtle shifts (such as the dying light with the receipt of the letter) reinforcing the action without intruding. The music, both integral and transitional, augmented the production, as did the marvelous costumes which the cast wore with ease. (When was the last time you tried to cope with hoops?)
Mr. Dashwood's pronouncement that "morals don't sell nowadays" seem made for our times. Perhaps the simple pleasures of another time, so well accepted by the audience at the Concord classic, gives him the lie - and to day's Cassandras who can only conjure up calamity. For those of you who missed this year's sell-out production my advice is to find your copy of the book and re-read it - preferably with a young girl at your side - and start making plans for the next time.