“Little Women” captivated audiences on opening night as it presented one year — from Christmas to Christmas — of the March family’s struggles, hopes, disappointments and happy-go-lucky days.
The play begins with the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — discussing what each of them will buy with their Christmas dollar. But as money is tight during the Civil War, the sisters realize that if they buy themselves something, they cannot give Marmee, their mother, any Christmas gifts.
So cue the first of many lines reflecting selflessness in Peter Clapham’s adaptation.
“Let’s each get (Marmee) something for Christmas and nothing for ourselves,” says Beth, the second youngest of the March girls.
Discussion of what it means to be selfless and sacrificing your own comfort to help others is prevalent throughout the entire two-and-a-half hour play. The audience learns Mr. March is absent from the home because, though he is too old to be drafted, he has volunteered himself as a chaplain for the soldiers. Marmee and Beth are no stranger to the Hummel family, German immigrants and a neighbor of the March family who are desperate for food, warmth and restored health. The Marches give the Hummels some of their own frugal Christmas dinner fixings and, towards the end of the play, compromise Beth’s health to serve them.
Mr. Laurence, Laurie and John Brooke, neighbors to the Marches, join in the display of selflessness by becoming faithful friends of the family — accompanying Marmee to Washington, giving Beth a piano, visiting Amy daily while she stays at her dreadful aunt’s house, and giving Jo, the second eldest of the sisters, the brother-friend she’s always desired.
Positive themes of individuality, happiness, having pride in one’s work, humility, friendship and family unity also run throughout the play.
But in no way is “Little Women” boring. Yes, it is heavy on the dialogue and big-picture life lessons, but the show is full of humor.
David Widder-Varhegyi brings his usual irresistible humor to the stage, this time as Laurie Laurence. And Andrew Poplin’s character, elder Mr. Laurence, breaks away from the typical stuffy and rich old man. So, too, does John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, played by Caleb Curby.
These three male leads in the show bring a refreshing and comical perspective to the dialogue. With a show called “Little Women,” it’s to be expected that more than half of the cast is female, emotions are well-played and fast-paced — and loud — dialogue is not a problem to present. But Widder-Varheygi, Poplin and Curby surely quicken the pace of the show with their antics, gentlemanly remarks and quirky humor.
Jo March, played by Rebecca Levergood, is a very headstrong character who often wishes she was a boy and “has a very great weakness for reading,” as Marmee says. Her presence fills the stage, especially when she is actually gallivanting around it.
Meg, on the other hand, is quite proper. And Madison Hart portrays her to a T.
The other two sisters—Beth and Amy— played by Emma Kowatch and Katie Gilbert are well-cast, too. From Amy’s temper tantrums to Beth’s shyness, the March sisters are very relatable to today’s average family with four daughters.
Marmee, played by Sarah Largent, and the family’s housemaid, Hannah, played by Raven Simmons, are the voice of sensibility in the household. The March sisters face “boy problems,” inevitable sisterly conflict, sickness and inadequate self-esteem, but Marmee and Hannah always point the girls to what’s really important in life — great bits of wisdom we all gain as onlookers.
But life isn’t always so peachy for the March family.
Enter: Aunt March, Scarlet fever, a father off to war, and a dying child in Beth’s arms.
Aunt March is that relative families have a hard time even pretending to love. She’s absolutely dreadful inside and out, from head to toe. But she’s supposed to be, and Amy Cundall does a great job at conveying this.
At the simplest level, “Little Women” is a dose of reality. But it’s packed with little reminders that are still applicable today, over 150 years after Louisa May Alcott’s novel was written. The play is presented in such a way that you’ll feel like you’re growing wiser while laughing a great deal.
Filled with a fair amount of Christmas surprises, romantic interests and a few tear-jerking moments, there’s no reason to miss out on the remaining performances of “Little Women.”
The remaining showings this weekend are Saturday, Oct. 4 from 2-5 p.m and again from 8-11 p.m. The show will also play five more times next week from Thursday to Sunday, Oct. 12.
Anna Dembowski is a junior journalism major and managing editor/arts & entertainment editor for Cedars. She likes nearly anything that is the color purple and enjoys spelling the word “agathokakological.”