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A CurtainUp Review
Little Women

I'm man of the family, with Father away! — Jo
Kate Hamill, Kristolyn Lloyd, Maria Elena Ramirez, Paola Sanchez Abreu, Carmen Zilles in Little Women. (Photo: James Leynse)
In her program notes for her adaptation for Primary Stages of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel Little Women, Kate Hamill tells us she is interested in "reclaiming" the classics— creating inclusive, feminist, socially relevant stories..." News alert: Alcott's beloved story about four closely-knit sisters on the verge of self-discovery during the time of the Civil War is not Hamill's to reclaim.

This, however, is a issue that will not be considered at any length in this review. Hamill's aesthetic posture worked very nicely and laudably in her previous adaptations of literary classics (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Vanity Fair etc), in most of which she also took a role. But it doesn't work nearly as well in this instance.

Legions have enjoyed the many filmed versions and even the short-lived Broadway musical (review). They're generally eager to return and reconsider the novel as well as see Jo, its mainly adored core character, in a new and perhaps more insightful light.

An impassioned and invigorated young woman with a gift and a goal, Jo is quite different from her sisters: the frail Beth (Paola Sanchez Abreu), the conformist Meg (Kate Hamill), and the self-centered malaprop-prone Amy (Carmen Zilles). Jo's sisters were more content than she to respect their status as part of the "genteel poor."

Now we are immediately jolted by this Jo (Kristolyn Lloyd). That's not so much because she talks at length about how she feels like a lonely outsider among women, but because her body language as much as her unmistakably masculine attire unquestionably define her to us. It is clear she wants to assert her sexual identity. Tomboy be damned, Hamill's Jo comes out loud and clear and unmistakably Lesbian.

What then to make of Lloyd's rather uncompromisingly terrific performance, actually the performance with the firmest grip on this otherwise this shaky but perhaps purposefully feminist adaptation? Hamill isn't content to have Jo alone confront her sexual identity. Laurie (appealing performance by Nate Mann), the good-looking neighbor who becomes Jo's best friend makes it quite clear in manners and speech: "I'd rather be a girl than a boy." In its curious way, their relationship and the bond they forge works well enough even if it strays perilously from Alcott's perspective.

The adaptation is, however, faithful to the novel in that we see how the members of the March family bicker and behave but also survive as a unit while the father is off to the war, briskly utilizing the two-level setting designed by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams. At the performance I attended the attentive matriarch Marmie (usually played by Maria Elena Ramirez) was played with script in hand by Megan Byrne who also played Aunt March. Ellen Harvey does well investing the role of Hannah the housekeeper with humor.

Anyone not familiar with the story of the March girls, their competitiveness and contentiousness as well as their solidarity under the stress of caring for themselves in hard times will be confused by the fitful and fragmented episodes. Scenes are curiously bridged with sprightly music that seem like intros to musical numbers that never happen.

Act II is a vast improvement and serves to clarify what preceded. The frenetic pacing slows down just enough for us to gain some empathy for those other than Jo. Although it seems to come out of the blue, Hamill lets off steam about her role as a young mother with an inattentive husband. Garnering laughs is Michael Crane who effectively lets off a few squawks as a pet parrot.

The play does include Jo's misguided attempts to write plays of derring-do and also fiction. But it does not include her trip to New York or her relationship with the much older Professor Bhaer.

In the end, Jo does it alone. Audiences will either find the feminist focus of this version either distracting or diverting. I just found it disengaging.

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Little Women by Kate Hamill based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Sarna Lapine
Cast: Paola Sanchez Abreu (Beth), Michael Crane (Brooks/Parrot/Dashwood, Kate Hamill (Meg), Ellen Harvey (Hannah, Mrs. Mingott/Messenger), Jon Lenartz (Mr. Lawrence/Robert March), Kristolyn Lloyd (Jo), Nate Mann (Laurie), Maria Elena Ramirez (Marmie/Aunt March), Carmen Zilles (Amy).
Set Design: Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams
Costume Design: Valerie Therese Bart
Lighting Design: Paul Whitaker
Sound Design: Leon Rothenberg
Wig & Hair Design: Dave Bova
Fight Director: Michael G. Chin
Production Stage Manager: Bonnie McHeffey
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission.
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street.
Performances Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 3 Added performances: June 23 at 8pm; June 26 at 2pm
From 05/15/19 Opened 06/04/19 Ends 06/29/19
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 06/08/19

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