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‘Little Women’ going big

Classic tale brings a different era to life at the CTG

Posted: April 1, 2011 6:00 a.m.
Updated: April 1, 2011 6:00 a.m.

Some of the women of “Little Women” at the Canyon Theatre Guild. From left to right, Jane Arnett as Hannah, Tyler Joy Bannerman as Beth, Justine Kelly as Amy, Sandra Kate Burck as Jo, Charissa Wilson as Meg, and Gin Treadwell-Eng as Marmee (Mrs. March). Not shown is Patti Finley as Aunt March.

 


I remember joking with some friends in the audience that "Little Women" was basically a chick flick (in play form). Known intimately from childhood-on by most American women, it is definitely not a "guy" story - and yet this guy thoroughly enjoyed it. This was even though I saw the play on a Sunday evening at the end of a long, stressful weekend, and though the play is very understated, carried almost entirely through restrained dialoge. There are only a few moments of raised voices and any real "action" takes place offstage.

This is because of the style of the original novel, written by Louisa M. Alcott and published in 1868 and 1869 in two volumes - and later adapted by Peter Clapham for the stage.

Canyon Theatre Guild Director Randy Aronson said that he stayed as close as possible to the original play, including presenting it in three acts. In his director notes he said the classic tale is "perfect, a blend of comedy, drama and tragedy that makes this tale of the March family relevant (long) after it was first released."

The quiet, slow-moving, refined (for the most part) feel of the production begins with the set, appointed with Civil War-era furniture and opening with period Christmas candles and decorations. (Here it should be noted that the CTG artfully employed the walls of this set in both this play and "Social Security," running concurrently.)

Appropriate theme music introduces things and fills in set changes, and glorious period costumes make you believe, but the play is carried by mannerly dialogue. To someone with an "ear" more attuned to today's bold utterings, this dialogue at first made me feel the characters were putting each other on. (My apologies.) But soon I got in tune. And from then on I was bound to the world these people existed in, from rules of etiquette to fear of scarlet fever. And I could only imagine the hardships found in a world where you had so very little control.

The play follows the first volume of "Little Women." Mr. March is off being an army chaplain in the Civil War, Marmee, or Mrs. March, must run the household (including managing four daughters), assisted by housekeeper Hannah, aggressively pestered by Aunt March and befriended by Neighbors Mr. Lawrence, Laurie (his grandson) and Laurie's tutor John Brooke.

Illness plays its part, requiring Marmee to leave to care for her husband, and nearly killing daughter Beth. In the process friendships and romances are formed, everyone grows and even Aunt March comes through in her way.

Daughter Jo March, played by Sandra Kate Burck, is the central character of this production. And in this Burck is excellent as the outspoken tomboy chafing under the collar of being a respectable lady. Her tragedies and triumphs are extremely satisfying and she is the voice crying from the wilderness. Great job.

Charissa Wilson plays Meg March, the oldest daughter, destined for love with John Brooke. Holding to the required refinement throughout the story, it is also very satisfying when she gives herself up to romance.

Justine Kelly plays the youngest daughter, Amy March, who gets to be a bit of a brat but grows up quickly when her actions cause Jo pain and when the life around her becomes life-or-death. Seemingly precocious at first, her weakness of youth is revealed soon enough, and well done.

Tyler Joy Bannerman plays Beth March, the musician with more to tell than her position in the pecking order allows. Her generosity almost causes her death, yet even so she remains good-hearted and unchanged.

Gin Treadwell-Eng plays Mrs. March and I found myself wondering if she was the same refined and mannerly person in real life. It just seemed so perfectly natural. Her personality smoothed troubled waters whenever she was in the room.

Jane Arnett gave Hannah a humorous Irish energy that was absolutely charming. And her friendly sass and worldly take on things made a great counterpoint to those more fearful.

Patti Finley had the opportunity to play Aunt March who, in this small story, gets the role of "villain" (though she really isn't). Her stern and powerful projection and poundings of her cane on the floor were scary - and perfect for the role.

If it is possible, the gentlemen in this story are even more mannerly and gentle than the women. All are oh-so-very proper at all times. Greg Finley as Mr. Lawrence, John Tanksley as John Brooke, John Morris as Mr. March and Gregory Rosenberg as Laurie all did a good job in this. Laurie does get to have some fun, through Jo, and here the two of them anchor the production in real life.

Go to view a classic. Go to feel an era from the past. Go to enjoy some excellent performances. But, whatever your motivation, go see "Little Women."

The show has Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on April 2, 3, 9, 16. 17 and 23, and a Sunday evening performances at 6:30 p.m. on April 10. Tickets are $10-$12 for juniors/seniors and $12-$15 for adults. The box office number is (661) 799-2702. The Canyon Theatre Guild is located in Old Town Newhall at 24242 Main Street.

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