CSC’s “Little Women” Warm and Visionary
Review by Liz Eichler
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Little Women is a warm and delightful theatrical event, perfect for every family. It is produced with love and respect of the source material. This regional premier of Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s flies by, much like the childhoods of the main characters as Hamill recalibrates this classic of American Literature for 2022.
Little Women is the story of the March family as the four girls navigate growing up in Civil War era New England. Father (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II) is away at war. The family, guided by the loving and giving Marmie (Torie Wiggins) must manage not only its meager finances, but the wagging tales of the people in town who do not like their politics. (As much a factor in the 1860’s as it is in 2022.) Despite the familiar squabbling, the joy and connection between the sisters is universal, and a key to the success of the story’s staying power.
Hamill’s adaptation leans into personality traits of the March sisters, exaggerating Amy’s (Emelie O’Hara) spoiled nature and malapropisms, Beth’s (Angelique Archer) goodness, Meg’s (Maggie Lou Rader) propriety, and Jo’s (Elizabeth Chinn Molloy) drive and individualism. Jo and new friend Laurie (Patrick Earl Phillips) rail against society’s expectations, and together they discuss gender roles and acceptance of true self. Hamill’s story focuses on Jo, stopping short of the book’s ending.
From the moment you see the set (Designer Shannon Moore) you know you are in a loving and cozy home. Beams bring down the ceilings and clocks fill the walls (the show is about time passing and how we cannot do anything about it). Thoughtful scene changes move the show along. Director Jema Alix Levy ensures the quick pace, pausing for emphasis, heightening the sisters’ hijinks, and adding a few surprises.
The cast is stellar. Not only is it color blind casting, but age-fluid (and maybe species fluid). It works. Making her CSC debut is the petite fireball Emilie Hart. Her Amy is so intriguing, and she imbues each insult hurled at her big sister with adult-sized passions. She is not sugar-coated.
Another debut on the CSC stage, Elizabeth Chin Molloy is an animated, passionate and amazing Jo. It is such a joy to see Molloy’s Jo, after seeing her excel in numerous smaller roles around Cincinnati. I’ve always hoped to see more of her charm, control and movement skills. Wiggins is appropriately warm as Marmie, but her depiction of Aunt March and Justin McComb’s parrot are worth the ticket price. McComb’s Brooke and Rader’s Meg are so sweet together. The flexible Shelley Delaney is also making her CSC debut as the Irish maid Hannah–a role which often raises book club type questions among playgoers young and old from “how could they afford help?” to “why did they need help? Discuss.
Costuming (Abbi Howson) ranges from a glorious ball gown to iron-burned or homespun clothes. The outerwear is gorgeous, especially Beth’s scarlet coat. Aunt March’s black ensemble is rich with texture. The lighting (Justen N. Locke) is mostly subtle, emphasizing feelings with color and intensity. Wigs are the only disappointing element of this wonderful production.
Little Women runs November 11 to December 03. The joy and love between the characters bathes over you from beginning to end. This play gently ushers in the Winter Holiday season, with the right amount of schmaltz and a heap of laughter. Get your tickets HERE.
Liz Eichler has a BA and MTA in Theatre, and an MBA in Marketing. She’s been both a Professional Costumer and Marketer, and has taught at multiple colleges and universities in multiple states for over 20 years. Liz is a past-president of LCT and has been involved for over 10 years.