In her stage version of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 19thcentury novel, Kate Hamill promises a “radical adaptation” and a “conscious explosion” of “the archetypes found in the novel.” But there’s no pointless demolition in Primary Stages’ production of Hamill’s “Little Women,” which is playing through June 29that the Cherry Lane. Portrayed by a first-rate, racially/ethnically diverse cast, Hamill’s four March sisters may be in one way 21stcentury women, facing issues like postpartum depression and sexual harassment, or waving a flag for gender fluidity. But they are also very much recognizable as the distinctive characters from the novel, and not just because of Valérie Thérèse Bartand’s Civil War era costumes.
The play focuses on Jo (Kristolyn Lloyd), the headstrong tomboy who wants to be a writer. In this retelling, Jo is manifestly genderqueer, which is the reason why she rejects the romantic advances of Laurie (Nate Mann), the boy next door, who has grown up to become her best friend. This reason for her rejection makes more sense than the relatively weak reason in the novel – that she thinks her sister Beth may be interested in him. It is one of the several examples in which Hamill’s fiddling with Alcott’s incidents feels as much practical as radical.
In the novel, vain resentful Amy burns Jo’s manuscript for spite. But in the play it’s by accident.
Amy (Carmen Zilles) is afflicted with malapropisms — she says things like aggregating instead of aggravating – and Jo dutifully writes each mangled word of Amy’s “vocabiblary” in a notebook she is keeping, threatening Amy with publishing the list. Amy thinks she’s burning that notebook, which looks the same as the one that contains Jo’s novel.
If Sarna Lapine’s direction doesn’t always put a priority on clarity or pacing, the cast provides enough humor and warmth to keep us engaged most of the time in the production. Hamill is wonderful as Meg, who falls in love with the stuffy Mr. Brooke, Laurie’s tutor (Michael Crane); the scene where, as a new mother, she escapes her two toddlers and has a meltdown back in her family home, is heartbreaking Paola Sanchez Abreu does what she can to make saintly, sickly Beth, always the mediator and the conscience of the family, feel as if she could exist in the real world, then and now. She’s certainly needed.
Primary Stages at Cherry Lane
Written by Kate Hamill based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. Directed by Sarna Lapine
Scenic design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams, costume design by Valérie Thérèse Bart, lighting design by Paul Whitaker, and sound design by Leon Rothenberg. Music composed by Deborah Abramson.
Cast: Paola Sanchez Abreu as Beth, Michael Crane as Brooks/Parrot/Dashwood, Kate Hamill as Meg, Ellen Harvey as Hannah/Mrs. Mingott, John Lenartz as Mr. Laurence/Robert March, Kristolyn Lloyd as Jo, Nate Mann as Laurie, Maria Elena Ramirez as Marmie/Aunt March, and Carmen Zilles as Amy.
Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.
Little Women is on stage through June 29, 2019