Thursday, November 30, 2023

Play: Holiday Play 1

Little Women by Kate Hamill, adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott, Directed by Marti Lyons, Seattle Rep, through December 17

Hey, a real play at the Rep! Not a performance, not an exhibition, not a looping  musical, not a dance troupe. With real actors portraying distinct roles, a couple of whom I've actually seen in other stuff (which is part of what a Repertory is -  while delighted to see actors making their "Seattle Rep Debut" I could stand to see a few other dependables). And an intermission. I don't know how long it has been since I've seen an intermission!

OK, I never read Louise May Alcott's Little Women back in the day. The Lovely Bride did, but her memory has faded in the half-century-plus since. But a lot of other women had read it back in the day, as I noticed that the audience had a lot of women in it, young and old. So call it an American Classic. Me? I'm relying on Wikipedia for what happens in the original text.

So for those of you who missed that part of English class, here's the skinny. Little Women is the story of four March sisters during the Civil war - Would-be author Jo (Ameilio Garcia), studious Meg (Cy Paolantonio), delicate Beth (Katie Peabody), and bratty youngest Amy (Rebecca Cort). Their father is away at the war, and they are trying to make ends meet. The young women squabble, argue, laugh, relax, put on theatrical productions, and press on through life. Jo is traditionally presented as a "tomboy", but in casting a transmasc actor (Garcia), director Lyons pushes the envelope further - Jo presents male in a lot of the scenes, and when forced into traditional female garb of the era, is a fish out of water.

Traditional gender roles are a big part of the first act. Meg is very much a feminine icon of the times, while baby of the family Amy (Cort plays the role to the hilt) is obsessed with growing into societal expectations. Jo, for her part, encounters the visiting neighbor Laurie (an excellent Austin Winter), a sensitive young man unsure about his own expected role in society as well. He and Jo hit it off as a nice duo.

But actually Peabody's Beth is the secret protagonist of the play - the character that drives the action forward. She's the one that takes action. Jo has announcements and pronouncements, but it is quiet Beth that takes action with the neighbors, that engages in helping the poor, and, when she takes to her sickbed, rallies the family together. She's also the one that, at the start and finish of the play, encourages Jo to not write potboiler action romances, but to instead write about the family, closing the loop on the work itself. 

The play's pacing is a bit weird, in part because the original work has its own odd pacing (here comes the Wikipedia notes). The text version most folk are familiar with is really two works mushed together. Little Women was the original work, and Alcott expanded on it with a second volume that was published in the States as a combined work (In Britain it was published as a separate story and titled Good Wives - Alcott's coffin would be strapped to the rotisserie and set spinning on "high" for that one). In any event, the play's first act is that first story, and everything resolves by the intermission - father returns home, Jo sells her first story. Meg starts courting Laurie's tutor. A delayed Christmas happens. Jo and Laurie kiss under the mistletoe. Happy resolutions. When act two kicks off, it's a couple years later - Meg is now a stressed-out mother, Amy has become the unpleasant society woman that Jo disdains, Jo is still dreaming, and Beth is still the fragile secret protagonist. The theme has changed as well, stressing now the demands of adulthood on the quartet. There is a lot of "Oh, grow up" among the character discussions here, and a question of what that really means.

The second act also takes some liberties with the original text. Characters and actions from the additional volume don't appear, and there feels like a disconnect as JoLaurie becomes AmyLaurie (the two hook up in Europe in the book, which is not covered here). It is a weird sort of denouement that resolves with Jo choosing to become the writer we know Alcott as. It feels like a bit of a change-up a sequel to the first act as opposed to a continuation..

Hamill did Pride and Prejudice at the Rep a few years back, and took some amusing swings at the original text. She feels more grounded in this one, more traditional to the written text, more fitting into the period. The sets have that suitable, open feel that suits the Rep well, with pianos, dinner tables and sickbeds wheeled on and off. It does have that cozy feel suitable for a a traditional Holiday Play, something you can take the kids or the visiting relatives to. I still have no great desire to engage with the original source material, or even the half-dozen film adaptations over the years, but it was a good afternoon in another place, another era. 

More later,