Point blank, this play was way too long; three and one half hours and it was supposed to be even longer! Gina Stevens, the Director of Town and Country Players production of LITTLE WOMEN, acknowledged to me after the show that she cut one full hour of dialogue from Peter Clapham’s adaptation of the novel by Louisa May Alcott! This show was more like a mini-series, it played like a novel, not a play. OK, you think I hated this? WRONG! Despite the length of the show, Stevens did an outstanding job with directing this masterpiece. It was a pleasure to listen to intriguing actors deliver well written verse on stage. So my previous complaint is with Clapham’s adaptation, not with Alcott nor the wonderful actors at Town and Country Players.
Stevens engineers a marvelous production; from set design, to casting, to unbelievably detailed props and stage effects, to incredible costumes, to effective and swift scene changes, to an innovative prologue in the beginning of the show. It was a huge cast, eighteen in all, and it must have been difficult for Stevens to direct all of them, but, to her credit, I believe she did. The staging on the alley way theatre was constant and kept me involved with actors moving; not just for the sake of moving. I sincerely congratulate Stevens for a tremendous job. Celebrate this victory, Gina, you deserve it.
With so many people to send accolades to, it will be difficult to do so, but please permit me to try. Darthea Powden starts the show with a rolling start as a Civil War era dressed Louisa May Alcott, writing at a desk while conversing with the audience. The audience loved the interaction with the historical figure and it got the show off to a great start. The set, by Robert Duke, Frank Kasitz and Marguerite Duke was classic pre-Antebellum and I felt as if I were actually inside the house of the March family. Scenic Artist Barbara Emch’s details, down to the painting of the stage floor to look like realistic old plank wood floors was so realistic; I actually touched the floor to see if somehow they laid flooring instead of just painting. Phyllis Eckelmeyer’s attention to the smallest of details in this heavy, heavy, props show was amazing. Nothing was overlooked, except one little item when a will was read and there was no writing on the paper. But other than that, I was very impressed and happy to see someone take such pride in the little things. Two added “props” to the Props Mistress; live animals on stage! A well trained dog and a basket full of the tiniest little kittens from the Cat’s Bridge Rescue in Bensalem, PA, were total surprises and added “life” to the stage. Well done! Then, the costumes! For some of you, you may have known or heard of Town and Country’s infamous wardrobe king, the late Walter Deli. He is memorialized in the theatre’s hallways with detailed sketches and drawings of his designs. Walter would have been proud of Mary Eveland-Goehringer’s designs. Assisted by Alma Perry, these two ladies brought to life the Civil War era via what the actors wore. The costumes were standout. Any actor would have loved to wear them. Details such as shoes, gloves, gowns, hats, ascots, waistcoasts, and capes gave this show an authentic presence. Isabelle Mitchell, listed as the Costumer, deserves high marks and credit for actually making the costumes. The detail and time it probably took to fashion all these pieces must have taken hundreds of hours. Wigs/Hair was a huge part of this show and Lynne Anne Donchez’s designs were graceful and elegant. Technical Director Scott Connard deserves a lot of credit creating mood and ambiance with lights and sound. And Stage Manager Jen Hopkins was masterful in keeping this grand scale production on track, despite the length.
The acting matched the crew’s talent and then some. Kimberly Finley who plays Jo March and the character most resembling Alcott herself, was a stubborn, spunky, punchy, tomboyish delight. Her off stage presence is nothing like her character on stage; which to me means, a quality of performance. I enjoyed watching her with every “Christopher Columbus” (inside joke, go see the show to see what I mean). Meghan Magee who portrays the oldest March sister, Meg (ironic), was dominant and refined in the role. She has a very nice command of the stage and she is planning to move to New York to pursue her acting career. It will be pretty cool to say I saw her when she was just starting off. Kristina Lewis has a sweet, gentle, kind, innocence on stage as the sickly sister Beth. You just wanted to take care of her, like all her sisters want to do. Finally, rounding out the sisters, Laura Buttenbusch, the baby girl complete with pink ribbons in her hair, is Amy March. Buttenbusch plays Amy with a cute and peppy style, but with a dark brooding side.
Alma Perry doubles as the witchy with a “B” rich old aunt of the family. Perry adds a gnarly attitude to the show. In real life, this sweet lady is nothing like her character. Again, great acting! Ann Romanowski gives the Irish maid, Hannah, real life and maintains the servant’s role throughout the production with motherly love. She was an audience favorite. The men of the show, were overshadowed by the performances of these fine “little women”. Nicolas Torrens, Nicholas Stevens and Kenneth Snyder did their roles well, but the show is called LITTLE WOMEN for a reason.
Finally, not to sound gushing, but Kimberly Lantz’s performance as Marmee, or the Mother of the four girls, was classic. I found myself watching Lantz when she wasn’t speaking and her acting was just as outstanding then as when she spoke her many lines. She held herself to a high standard and nailed the performance as the strong willed, educated, but Civil War ear wife who, due to fate, was left as the head of the household while her husband was off at war. Lantz was definitely the glue to this show.
If you go to see this production, be prepared for a long time in the seat. But, I think anyone with a sense of history and classic writing and style with find a way to look past the length and enjoy yourself in an era of time long gone.
By Peter Clapham, an adaptation from the novel by Louisa May Alcott
Directed by Gina Stevens
October 8 – 17 , 2010
Town and Country Players
4158 York Road