Milwaukee Rep’s Little Women Well Suited For The 21st Century.

Rebecca Cort, Katie Peabody, Colleen Madden, Amelio García, and Cy Paolantonio in Little Women. Photo by Bronwen Houck.

So am I suggesting that playwright Kate Hamill and director Marti Lyons have updated Louisa May Alcott’s fascinating story to the new century? No, far from it, the play hews closely to it’s 19th Century roots…but the story around family, the effects of war on families, the position of women in society, gender identity, and the coming of age for young women…continue to ring true today and the audience in the Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse Theater certainly felt the emotional effects and shifts…as was apparent from the laughs and sighs and silences clearly exhibited during the performance.

And this is a play not to be missed. I was surprised and elated by the range of emotions it pushed across my horizons. I knew there would be some angst and sorrow but I was surprised by the humor…the type that made me laugh out loud…what a joy and a plus. But yes there was dread and concern and loss resulting in mourning for the Marches and for us. And it all reached out to me beyond my expectations.

Of course we have Alcott’s famous March sisters, Amy, Jo, Meg, and Beth, and their family, friends, and community. The central character is Jo, who struggles to define her role in the family as she grows. An aspiring writer she also faces discrimination from the local editor because she is a woman. He dismisses her first attempt at a novel out of hand simply for that reason and suggests she return with her father or husband. Amelio Garcia is Jo at the Rep…and gives us every nuance the character demands…self doubt, swagger, love of family, longing for friendship, and frustrations from the limits imposed on her by her gender and gender identity.

A key performance for me is Rebecca Cort’s Amy…played in a fashion that was in no way suitable…I mean subtle (you’ll understand if you attend the play and gather in Amy’s malapropisms which are annoyingly documented by Jo). But Cort easily shifts from the youngster: an annoying, brash, lively, and absolutely adorable school girl to a rather abrasive shrew in young adulthood. Cort just nails this role and you need to watch her even when she isn’t the focus of the scene!

Cy Paolantonio is Meg March, the one sister who is initially comfortable with the social norms of the time and is ready and willing to comply. But she too has her moment of crisis and returns to the comfortable familiar surroundings of home and family before she finally comes to the realization that her chosen path is where she belongs. And Beth March is emphatically portrayed by Katie Peabody, the one March sister who actually seems to be the odd one out but is the most comfortable in her skin. Described as the conscience, Peabody presents a young woman in touch with her family, her society, and nature and is good with that. And her role is the family touchstone is clearly displayed during her illness and eventual death in the play.

But it’s not all just Little Women here. There is a little man in the form of Laurie, full name Theodore Laurence, a well-to-do neighbor who seems smitten with Jo while Amy seems to be smitten with him. Laurie is played by Austin Winter and moves from a confident and playful young man into a very thoughtful, suave, and loving adult. His interest in Jo is unrequited and he doesn’t realize that until late in the play when he proposes to her. He is to be forgiven his lack of awareness here as Jo finds him attractive in her own way and they enjoy a sincere and playful friendship early on.

The set design here is truly amazing as the only constant is a colorful patterned rug apparently painted on the theater floor. Every other set piece is readily and easily movable and tends to be in constant motion via exchanges by the actors. This little ballet is just a miracle and director Lyons, movement director Paolantonio, scenic designer Collette Pollard, stage manager Kira Neighors, et al should get a standing ovation as well as the cast.

Little Women runs through February 18th, 2024. More information and tickets can be found here.

And as always, extra credit readings: Play Guide! and Program!

article © 2024 The New World Digs

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