Somehow, I got through my childhood without having read
Little Women (though all the girls I knew loved the book). So
experiencing the story in FreeFall Stage’s production of the play was a
fresh experience for me — and no doubt
a sentimental revisiting of loved characters for those more familiar
with the story.
Fundamentally, this is a drama about familial
relations, especially the emotions of young girls on the brink of
adulthood and independence. It’s a period piece, and the set is a
beautiful evocation of a mid-19th-century New England home. The costumes
all seemed perfect to me. And on the one occasion where money changed
hands, it looked (from a distance) like those old, large greenbacks.
FreeFall Stage’s home venue in Victory Life Church
gives an intimate theater experience, and that sense of intimacy is
accentuated when the actors frequently enter from behind the audience
(and exit the same way). I must add that one of the pleasures of this
space is that all the dialog comes through with perfect clarity.
The action begins with four sisters at home with their
mother (Marmee, played by Courtney Symes) and housekeeper (Hannah,
played by Tana Alvaz Colburn). Their father (Craig Riley) is away,
serving as a volunteer pastor to Northern soldiers in the Civil War.
Tamara Brooks plays the gracious and winsome Meg, the oldest of the
sisters at 16. Amber Donnelly is Amy, the callow intellectual. Jennie
Vacarro is Beth, the eventual pivot for much of the drama of the play.
And Emma Eldridge is Jo, the edgy tomboy of the sisters. Rounding out
the initial cast members are Gerry Camp as the kindly old Mr. Lawrence
and Donnalee Bury as the crotchety Aunt March.
Much of the first half of the play paints a picture of
19th century family bliss, despite the absence of the father and the
avowal of poverty. The action is full of elevated emotions, and everyone
is a model of virtue. (In my notes, I wrote “It’s all so precious.”)
Then things begin to break down. There’s a bit of bickering, Amy is
cruel toward Jo — and young men enter
the picture. Ben Whitlatch is Brooke, Meg’s love interest, and Travis
Hoffman is Jo’s beau, bringing a special charm and animation to his role
and energizing every scene he’s in. The same was true for the character
of Professor Berrera, introduced late in the second act and played by
Christian Blake — tall, good-looking,
with a genuine Spanish accent, and given some of the best lines in the
The drama picks up as the girls get older and deal
with more emotionally-charged issues: illness and death, heartbreak and
disappointment. I thought all this was portrayed effectively. Each girl
showed development in her character, fundamentally a transition to
adulthood. And the poignancy of that transition was reflected primarily
in Jo’s character when she said (to Laurie): “We can never go back to
the way things were.”
There were many nice touches in this presentation. One
was having the absent father read his letter aloud downstage while
Marmee was reading it silently to the girls upstage. Another was Beth’s
death. When the stage went dark at the end of the scene, Blake carried
her off, preserving the mood. Had she gotten up herself (in plain
sight, though after the scene had ended), the emotional impact of her
death would have been diminished.
This is a touching play, with occasional moments of
gentle humor. Fundamentally, it is an uplifting story, and this
production provides a good introduction for initiates like me
— and a sure a delight for those who
see familiar characters and situations lovingly brought to life.