Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Little Women"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark

"Little Women"

Adapted by Sands Hall
Directed by Nora Hussey

Set and Lighting Designed by Ken Loewit
Costume Design by Katherine Hull
Production Manager Ken Loewit
Stage Manager Victoria George

Jo..................Alicia Kahn
Beth..............Melina McGrew
Meg................Laura Balmer
Amy............Emily Coddington
Aunt March....Gladdy Matteosian
Marmee...........Charlotte Peed
Laurie..........Joshua Olkowski
John Brooke......Gregory Stuart
Mr. Laurence......Jackson Royal
Mr. March........Stephen Cooper
Professor Bhaer.......Bern Budd
Tina/ Daisy........Molly Weston

"Little Women" is all about a family growing up in Concord. Sands Hall's adaptation of Alcott's book for the stage was the opening production done by a family called The Wellesley Summer Theatre --- a theatrical "family" growing up on the campus of Wellesley College in another Boston suburb. Both families have had their triumphs and disappointments on a journey toward self-discovery. The thinly disguised quartet of Alcott sisters (Meg, Amy, Beth and Josephine "March") change --- and compromise --- over a ten-year period. The play is long over, but it offers a good excuse to assess the company and the aspirations of its "Marmee" --- Artistic Director Nora Hussey.

In my first years in Cambridge (1957+) --- long before the invention of "Metro West" --- I got out to see some very good outdoor theater at what was called Wellesley Theatre on The Green. They did "stock" --- a core company played various roles in every production through the season, and many of them returned season after season. And for several years now The Wellesley Summer Theatre has been re-creating that form, but indoors rather than outdoors.

In a sense Nora Hussey has been using Wellesley College in the same way the American Repertory Theatre uses Harvard or The Huntington Theatre or Boston Playwrights' Theatre uses Boston University: they get the theatre-space rent free in exchange for teaching theater courses during the year. Students occasionally get to work with the actors, on-stage as well as back-stage, and thus learn hands-on what the processes of making theater are all about..

In such a system, the company gets to spend money on sets, publicity, and actors' salaries rather than on rents. A cast of twelve, such as "Little Women" requires, would be difficult for even for an established professional company such as The New Repertory Theatre to field; most local companies would have to ask actors to work for free in order to do this play at all.

But the Artistic Director probably picked this play not simply because the company could do it, but from some motives peculiar to Wellesley College itself. Like many of the plays chosen by The Wellesley Summer Theatre, "Little Women" provides big, juicy parts for actresses, and it also tackles problems head-on concerning woman's lives, aspirations, opportunities, and compromises. In that sense, it fits excellently well into the educational orientation of Wellesley College, which for many years accepted women students only, and tried to prepare them for the real-world experiences their lives would face.

For regular audiences, the advantages and disadvantages are the same as those provided by any repertory company: On the one hand each actor has the advantage of "trying on" a wide variety of lives from play to play, stretching unused aspects of talent and personality to fit new situations and experiences --- and the audience ought to benefit from the results of that stretch.

The DIS-advantage is type-casting, wherein actors get to assay only the roles they fit into because of age, sex, or race, hoping the "fit" will be close enough. Also, the pressure of doing two or three roles on different days may not allow the study and experimentation that such "stretching" into unfamiliar roles necessitates. At Wellesley, male actors such as Jackson Royal or Stephen Cooper tend to be elbowed-aside by the women who take center-stage.

One other aspect of the system is the exposure of artists' "personal cliches"; As a director, for instance, Nora Hussey tends to eschew most hand-props. In "Little Women" there were repeated scenes of people reading "letters" and reading "books", even though their hands were really empty. The scenes lept from America to Paris or Rome, and nothing but the text made this obvious. A fillagree gobo painting shadows of folliage has appeared in several plays already.

For this particular play, the "star" (Alicia Kahn playing the tomboy Jo March) never completely grew past her initial uppity enthusiasms, while as the youngest March Emily Coddington got to grow from a gawky child into a woman, wife and mother. She did it very well, though she may have gotten the part simply because she was short enough. Such is the problem in a rep company.

The problem of this audience member is one of transportation: I saw only one of the three plays WST did this summer because, though the MBTA can get me to Woodland Station, the Wellesley Theatre in Alumnae Hall is a long hike from and to the T-Stop, and I don't have a car. In a sense, The Wellesley Summer Theatre is a theatre for suburbanites, who may slake their appetite for live plays where they live instead of making the long trek into the City. For me, however, the long trek Out of the city has been a restriction. And that is regrettable, because Nora Hussey is a gifted director whose blocking is impeccable and whose play choice is always interesting. I hope to follow the company's growth in many future seasons.


"Little Women" (12 - 29 June)
Alumnae Hall, Wellesley College, WELLESLEY MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide