DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)
“Clothes make the man,” the old saying goes. Clothes also makes “Little Women” in the case of what Evergreen Productions has put together. Furnishings, too.
The look of the characters and a place in 1860s America seem to give oomph to the actors in the well-shaped production that continues to Sept. 21 in Webb Theatre of Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College.
“Little Women” has been around since 1868/1869. The novel has lasted perhaps because Louisa May Alcott made a statement about America and American literature – and the rare woman of American literature – while telling an engaging story of a family hard-pressed at home during the Civil War.
The adaptation that Peter Clapham has written features budding romances and strengths and foibles within the March family along with a dramatic visit to a dangerous stalker of the time, scarlet fever.
Director Rochelle Van Erem and her cast shape the characters well. Along with look, this production has the aura of a company that cares about serving Louisa May Alcott well.
Because the performance is in the three-quarters round, hearing is sometimes problematic as the players move and speak toward different parts of the theater. Body English helps in some instances.
Personalities come through.
Jo is prominent. She is driven to write and speak her opinion come what may. Anna Morozov captures that flinty spirit. One can imagine what made Louisa May Alcott tick because Jo represents the author. Anna Morozov makes Jo’s headlong strength fun to behold.
Meg is prominent. The eldest daughter, she feels the weight of being the leader in life and love and oh so much. Azure Hall moves in her skin as Meg attracts a suitor and deals with her sisters’ rocky ways. The climactic scene has Azure Hall delivering full force.
Marmee, the mother, is prominent. Marmee seems to have an answer for everything, and it seems the be the right answer – a sign that Louisa May Alcott liked and respected and loved her mother a lot. Embodying that warmth is Aubrey Duncan.
Aunt March is prominent. She is the Ice Lady, the person whose right answers are right for her alone. Aunt March is a woman of means and a certain meanness (though not always), and Katie Guzek performs her to a T in a particularly definitive performance.
Dresses are prominent. They are a character. Every time Aunt March arrives, she wears a different showpiece – a huge, colorful hoop skirt along with vibrant fashion of the time. The clothing of Jo and Meg also changes quite a bit. Jo goes from a boyish outfit (her wanting to be a boy being a thread of a theme) to an iron-damaged dressed to a dressier dress. Meg always looks just so in an array of finery, sometimes with bright patterns. The toil that has gone into these looks – and many others – can be counted in hours.
Weaving through are characters that add tying elements to the story:
Trouble-making sister Amy (Ava Jo Brown).
Gentle sister Beth (Dana Cordry).
Knowing/caring maid Hannah, with an accent (Madelyn Glosny).
Good-hearted neighbor youth and Jo’s friend Laurie (Lucas Brunette).
Meg’s shy guy John Brooke (Jason Mencheski).
Personable neighbor Mr. Laurence (Vance Toivonen).
Ray-of-sunshine father (Brady DeGroot).
There’s a certain pride among the participants in this production. That sense starts when walking in the theater and seeing a living room from back when with a variety of furnishings that say they are well-crafted. Piece after piece is like that (hours having gone into finding each).
Little could Louisa May Alcott realize what her words would put in motion well after the ink dried on her paper.
Creative: Playwright – Peter Clapham, adapting the novel by Louisa May Alcott; director – Rochelle Van Erem; assistant director/props designer– Sara Yach; stage managers – Kati Long, Megan Sielski; costume designer – Cyndee Wilson; costume assistants – Janet Ajango, Ruth Novak, Judy Patefield, Katie Schroeder, Lynn Thompson, Leslie Trochlil; hair and make-up designer – Jacqueline Ploor; lighting designer – Jesse Cotherman; master carpenter, set designer – Mike Palubicki; set dresser/scenic painter – Charlie Fries; production assistant– Leslie Trochlil; choreographer – Azure Hall; production coordinator – Amanda Seyer; sound designers – Patricia Jagodinsky and Tom Harter
Amy March –Ava Jo Brown
Beth March – Dana Cordry
Jo March – Anna Morozov
Meg March – Azure Hall
Hannah – Madelyn Glosny
Mrs. March (Marmee) – Aubrey Duncan
Aunt March – Katie Guzek
Laurie – Lucas Brunette
John Brooke – Jason Mencheski
Mr. Laurence – Vance Toivonen
Mr. March – Brady DeGroot
Running time: Two hours, 55 minutes
Remaining performances: 2 p.m. Sept. 15, 7 p.m. Sept. 19-21
Info: snc.edu/tickets and evergreentheater.org
RELATED EVENT: Thursday, Sept. 19, a preshow talk starts at 6:30 p.m. with Rebecca Nesvet, associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
NEXT: Young Actors – “The Velveteen Rabbit,” Sept. 27-29, Mainstage – “FrUitCaKeS,” Dec. 6-8, 12-14.
THE VENUE: The 184-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.
THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had a lot of friends in the community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.