‘Little Women’ adaptation finds heart of story
“Little Women” at Citadel Theatre features (clockwise, from top left) Catherine Gillespie, Catherine Marcroft, Olivia Juras, Katherine Biskupic and Grace Stuart.
Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. Sundays; Wednesday matinees at 1 p.m. Dec. 5 and 19; Saturday matinees at 1 p.m. Dec. 15 and 22, through Dec. 30
(847) 735-8554; www.citadeltheatre.org
Updated: November 28, 2012 8:42AM
Ann Noble’s new stage adaptation of “Little Women,” is now premiering at Citadel Theatre.
Under the direction of Scott Phelps, it serves as a superb introduction for 21st century audiences to Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel. This American classic holds up well in this retelling, unlike some similar efforts that have hopelessly bastardized the original.
Noble focuses on the four March sisters — Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy — as they mature in a close-knit family from high-spirited young girls to adulthood and learn to cope with love, life and death.
In a program note, Noble talks about how tricky it was to transform Alcott’s book into a play without compromising the author’s intent: “My task became not about selecting elements of the book to ‘advance the plot’ so the audience can experience the story, but instead to include those elements that will allow the audience to experience the telling of the story.” Her adaptation retains the human element while underscoring the value placed on hard work, charity and family.
The sterling cast holds its own, especially Catherine Gillespie in the demanding role of Jo. An alter-ego for Alcott, her character is that of the budding writer in the family; her independent spirit and outspokenness are enough to put Jo at odds with a petulant Aunt March (Claudia Garrison).
Meg (Olivia Jaras), the eldest, who is 16 as the story unfolds, dreams of a better life; Amy (Katherine Biskupic), the youngest, is interested in art; and Beth (Grace Stuart) is shy, musically inclined and frail.
Jo’s strengths — honesty and sensitivity — make her an ideal narrator as “Little Women” follows the sisters as they experience a difficult Christmas at the family home in Concord, Mass. Their mother, called Marmee (Catherine Marcroft) and faithful maid Hannah (Kelly Farmer) are present, but the steadfast Mr. March (Andy Clifton) is in Washington, D.C. where he serves as a military chaplain during the Civil War.
The Marches, a genteel, generous, but far from wealthy family, share what they have with the needy and ill. In turn, they are befriended by a well-heeled elderly neighbor and widower, James Lawrence (Ron Mace), whose college-age grandson, the handsome Theodore “Laurie” Lawrence (Charles Askenaizer) and Laurie’s tutor John Brooke (Jeffrey Rubin) become fast friends with the March sisters — setting the stage for future romance.
The detailed period set and costumes by Bob Estrin and Carol Cohen complement Kirk Stateler’s lighting and Elliott Delman’s musical direction.
Though Noble’s version of the play is a tad long at 2 hours 45 minutes (including intermission), that’s not enough to throw it off the track.
Audiences will find ”Little Women” makes terrific holiday entertainment fare.