LITTLE WOMEN: Lovingly Brought to Life by Old Academy Players

by Ronald Comer

The cast of Old Academy Players' LITTLE WOMEN (from left): Julia Wise, Skye Pagon, Grace Kauffman-Rosengarten, Jessica Hobbs-Pifer, Bonnie Kapenstein (center).

It is difficult to imagine anyone not familiar with Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women. First published in 1868, the story of four sisters living with their mother in a New England home, while their father is away during the Civil War, has long been beloved for its warmth and humanity. The novel has inspired several theatrical stage adaptations, including the one by Peter Clapham now on the Old Academy Players’ stage.

Many who may never have read the novel will have seen one or more of the several film treatments dating back to the 1917 silent film version produced in the UK. Memorable American versions include the 1933, RKO produced picture featuring Katherine Hepburn, and the 1949 MGM film featuring June Allison, Margaret O’Brian, Elizabeth Taylor, and Janet Leigh, with Mary Astor as the mother. The most recent full-length movie version is the 1994 Columbia Pictures rendition which included Winona Rider, Kirsten Dunst, and Claire Danes among others. Certainly, it can be said that Alcott’s heart-warming story has enjoyed many decades of wide-spread appeal.

Running just under three hours, including two brief intermissions, Old Academy Players’ production of LITTLE WOMEN, directed by Carla Childs is filled with great charm and sensitivity. Clapham’s adaptation is exceedingly faithful in retelling the experiences of the four sisters; Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy who while struggling to cope with losses due to declining family wealth during the war, gain new meaning in their lives through the simple importance of small human deeds carried out for those less fortunate. Like the novel, this play will have appeal for all ages and it was wonderful to see some grade-school-age children in the audience on opening night.

The play is designed to take place in its entirety in the parlor of the March family home, encompassing a full year in the lives of the sisters. Set Designer, Larry Chapman, did a superb job in providing a sufficiently convincing period set which when first revealed from behind the opening curtain offered a splendid sight. Adding to the effectiveness of this period play were colorfully designed costumes developed for this production by a team of costumers led by Ginny Kaufmann, Sarah Swearer, Laura Seeley. Alice McBee contributed the finishing touches with her contributions to hair design for the women, a matter of some importance audience members will discover as the story unfolds.

A scene from Old Academy Players' LITTLE WOMEN: (Standing from l.): Patricia Pelletreau, Julia Wise, Bob Freed, Cory Mecca, Brian Weiser, Skye Pagon, Gerry Alexander; (Sitting from l.): Grace Kauffman-Rosengarten, Jessica Hobbs-Pifer, Bonnie Kapenstein.

Though this play has a reputation for being longer than usual, the director did a fine job in keeping the pacing of the players’ lines swift, without losing any of their meaning. In this regard, praise for the cast is also well deserved for the clarity and strength of their projection of lines, allowing audience members to easily hear and follow the fast moving scenes. Their confident portrayals of their characters added a keen atmosphere of excitement felt by the audience who seemed to genuinely enjoy this sturdy production of LITTLE WOMEN.

Julia Wise offers a spirited rendering of her role as Jo, the second oldest sister and tomboy of the group who hopes to do something great when she grows up and is determined not to let romance deter her from her aspirations. A perfectly charming performance as Amy, the youngest sister who frequently comes into conflict with older sisters, is delivered by Jessica Hobbs-Pifer. Grace Kauffman-Rosengarten, turns in a solid delivery in her role as Beth, who contracts scarlet fever sending the family into an emotionally difficult time. As Meg, the oldest sister, who develops a love interest, Skye Pagon rounds out a truly accomplished set of actors taking on these long- admired roles.

Playing the mother, “Marmee”, Bonnie Kapenstein offered up a very authentic portrayal of a woman who was both nurturing to her daughters and charitable to her neighbors. Also outstanding was Patricia Pelletreau as Hanna, the faithful family maid who is more a member of the family than a servant. Cory Meccariello plays Laurie, the young man next door, with enthusiasm. And, Brian Weiser, as Laurie’s tutor and later love interest of Meg is appropriately gentlemanlike in his thoughtful interpretation of his character, John Brooke.

Most people I have met over the years who have either read the novel, seen the movie or both have done so more than once because this is one of those stories that truly remains an American classic. The production now underway of LITTLE WOMEN in the East Falls section of the City is one fans of this timeless story will no doubt enjoy seeing.

by Peter Clapham
Directed by Carla Childs
November 4 – 20, 2011
Old Academy Players
3534-3544 Indian Queen Lane
Philadelphia, PA 19129

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