Review: Little Women show off their inner riot grrls in new stage adaptation of enduring story at Stratford Festival


Left to right: Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Verónica Hortigüela, Lindsday Wu, Brefny Caribou, Richard Lam and Allison Edwards-Crewe in Little Women at the Stratford Festival.David Hou

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  • Title: Little woman
  • Written by: Jordy Mand
  • Director: Esther Jun
  • Actors: Allison Edwards-Crewe, Veronica Hortiguela, Lindsay Wu, Brefny Caribou
  • Company: The Stratford Festival
  • Venue: Avon Theater
  • Town: Stratford, Ont.
  • Year: Until October 29, 2022
  • COVID-19 measures: Reduced capacity performance available.

Left to right: Lindsay Wu as Amy March, Brefny Caribou as Beth March, Allison Edwards-Crewe as Jo March, and Verónica Hortigüela as Meg March.David Hou

Are you a Jo, Meg, Amy or Beth?

Little womanin a new stage version currently showing at the Stratford Festival, offers another opportunity to examine this perennial question, on the heels of a few high-profile film and TV adaptations.

However, this theatrical production’s unique selling point over recent onscreen takes is its inclusive cast of the March sisters living in genteel poverty in Massachusetts — which can help all kinds of little people see themselves in Louisa May Alcott’s 19th century tale set during and in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

Potential writer Jo (a convincing Allison Edward-Crewe) is the central character, of course, and, in playwright Jordi Mand’s adaptation, the tomboy (to use the parlance of the time) is also our narrator for the evening.

Indeed, Jo literally draws her story from a small traveling trunk in director Esther Jun’s visually modest production: her sisters come out of a stage placed in the center of the stage, one at a time, bringing with them various accessories and decor elements in one clever shot. theater that kicks off the show.

Jo’s sisters are all well chosen: Veronica Hortiguela strikes the right balance between predilection and warmth as future housewife Meg; Lindsay Wu is the comic scene-stealer as attention-loving entertainer Amy; and Brefny Caribou is deservedly sweet as Beth on piano.

Brefny Caribou, center, as Beth March is comforted by Poole, Hortigüela and Edwards-Crewe in a scene from Little Women.Jordy Clarke

The rich boy next door, Laurie, known to Jo as Teddy, gets his own shy twist from Richard Lam. Among the older members of the ensemble, Irene Poole becomes noble and inspiring as matriarch Marmee, while Marion Adler has fun playing grumpy Aunt March.

Stratford first produced Little woman in 1997, in an adaptation by American playwright Marisha Chamberlain that only covered the action from the first of the novel’s first two volumes, which were published back-to-back in 1868 and 1869 but later combined.

This Mand-freshly commissioned adaptation covers both parts of the story, running through their incidents in a simple timeline, with an intermission placed very neatly in the middle. It almost feels like a play followed by its sequel rather than a two-act play.

Irene Poole, center, as Marmee surrounded by Wu, Caribou, Hortigüela and Allison Edwards-Crewe in Little Women.David Hou

Mand incorporated Alcott’s most beloved moments (the curling iron disaster, the book burning) while inserting references to slavery and women’s suffrage to give young audiences a little historical context for the stock. In terms of pacing, however, his version may feel like a staged abbreviation of the novel, rather than a stinging dramatization.

Despite being three hours long (for a show in the Schulich Children’s Plays series? In a Pandemic?), there’s not much time for character depth or much else in the short scenes — and the ending. Jo’s rushed romanticism, in particular, feels as much of a compromise with the expectations of an earlier era as ever.

Jun’s family production has a 1990s vibe at times – the characters emerging into that era’s fashions, before transitioning to period petticoats and that decade’s alternative music often playing in the background.

I’m not sure I really buy that Jo has a stronger connection to riot grrls than women from any other era of female rebellion and resistance, but these elements add an extra layer of fun to parents from this era .

Jo and Laurie’s first dance is Bjork’s It’s so quiet; Beth plays an acoustic version of Radiohead No surprises at the piano; and the curtain call is at Elastica Link. (Alyssa Martin’s direction of movement for a handful of dance numbers is fun and anarchic.)

I wanted a better integration of these visually appealing and striking elements with the meat of the show; instead, it was one of those productions where most of the fun set design is jam-packed with silences and scene changes.

Yet while the United States of America currently feels as divided as it has ever been since the American Civil War, Alcott’s depiction of a family clinging to normality in the North as the carnage takes place at a train ride seems very close to our current. moment. Likewise, the fear that strikes the March family when young Beth is first stricken with scarlet fever.

Likewise, Marmee’s line about being angry all the days of her life lands just as powerfully as the original, even though her attempts to avoid transmitting that fury to her little women, and the little women after them , are futile.

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