By: Isa Goldberg
June 20, 2019: Bearing the stamp of playwright Kate Hamill, this Little Women is a testament of late 20th century feminism. Hamill, who has famously adapted classics, Sense and Sensibility and Vanity Fair to the stage, finds fodder in well-known women’s roles – women of complexity, that is.
Her novel to stage adaptations can feel boisterous, bursting with a kind of giddy zeal. To that end, Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, Little Women, offers a basket full of melodramatic skits, exaggerated characterizations, great story telling, and the buoyancy that allows us to lift the images from the page. It’s still a foreshadowing to watch Katherine Hepburn’s broadly comedic portrayal of Jo in the 1933 movie.
Many remakes later, and we now have this stage play produced by Primary Stages at The Cherry Lane Theater in which Jo, the central character, is portrayed by the African American actress, Kristolyn Lloyd. In her portrayal, Jo doesn’t experience herself being like other women. She’s a writer, and she dresses like a man. And while dress ups are central for acting out her skits, Jo maintains a seriousness of purpose that becomes her. She definitely has anti-establishment charm, and a lot of resistance to “lady-like.”
The beauty of the piece, as in Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility is in the ensemble nature of the production. Director Sarna Lapine deftly weaves this on-stage family, with its four distinctly different sisters.
Thanks to a zesty Act II, we get to follow the characters to their individual destiny, and in the process discover the nuances of character that forge empathy. Beth, played by Paola Sanchez Abreu is an especially sensitive character, and her dark complexion is full of foreboding.
In the role of Meg, Kate Hamill transforms from the dutiful good girl, and the most feminine of the sisters, to the haggard wife of a tutor, and mother of twins. It’s a ravishing role, the twins screaming and crying and the constant house cleaning are enough to drive her out of her mind. It’s the reality of marriage as described here that underlines the play’s contemporary spin. Her life serves as a sharp contrast to the life Jo has chosen for herself.
Clearly, in such an adaptation characters that appear in the novel are eliminated, or blended into other characters who can express their views. Here, the poor Hummels, secondary characters in the novel, are only mentioned, as emblems of poverty. It’s a big concern for the sisters whose lives have gone from riches to rags. Speaking of domestic tensions, the story takes place during the Civil War.
Given the circumstances into which the liberal thinking March family has fallen, it’s appropriate that the entire production takes place on a single set. Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams’ dark and wooden living space, with a loft above carrying a small bed feels cold when there aren’t a lot of characters running about. Otherwise, it’s a home worthy of spiritual riches – piano playing, rambunctious acting, and the romantic lives that blossom for each of these four sisters.
Little Women ***
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street New York, NY 10014
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
For Tickets Click Here or call 212-352-3101
Photography: James Leynse