The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Little Women
Organization FreeFall Stage
Date(s) of show April 24 - May 24, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review 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 play.

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.

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