Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s Little Women a Big Success

Virginia Kincaid, Beth Jones, Kraig Williams, Ryan Mitchell, Priscilla Howell,
Madeline Hagood (foreground),  Michael Prange, Les Ico, and Amanda Clark.
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Truth in advertising – neither one of us has even been a big fan of Little Women (stage play, movie, or musical versions), and we’ve long been puzzled about the hold this story has had on generations of American women. We both managed to avoid the book during our formative years, and nothing in the adaptations that we had seen seemed to justify the story’s popularity. However, Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of Little Women is a bit of a theatrical eye-opener. Is it the adaptation (by Marisha Chamberlain), the direction (by Doreen Lundberg), or the strong leads in this production? Probably all three factors have contributed to the shift in perspective that found us actually enjoying a show we were prepared to merely tolerate.

Lundberg’s casting of the four March sisters (Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy) works beautifully, and captures the enormous differences between each of the girls. The role of Jo is, of course, always the most fun – and Amanda Clark’s amazing skill as a physical comic is fully utilized – but don’t let that fool you. She brings a warmth and passion to her delivery that goes well beyond the comedic demands of the script, and captures not only her bold rejection of orthodoxy but also her fiercely mercurial love for her family. Priscilla Howell plays Meg as the polar opposite – her calm, dignified exterior conceals a young woman just discovering the possibility of love and romance. Howell’s embarrassed recounting of the party where she dared to flirt, drink champagne, and wear a low-cut gown breathes life into a character who, at first glance, seems in danger of being a Stepford daughter/wife. The role of the reclusive Beth allows for less breadth, but Madison Stoehr handles it nicely, and the audience watches her express through her music a personality inhibited by her extreme shyness (it helps, too, that she actually can play the piano!). Madeline Hagood does a fine job as the youngest daughter, the lovely but selfish and manipulative Amy. While Hagood easily captures Amy’s dark side, she also believably expresses the girl’s remorse and genuine affection for her entire family, in particular her nemesis, Jo.

While the supporting cast is somewhat uneven, there are a few real bright spots. Beth Jones (“Marmee”) portrays a three-dimensional woman who has sublimated her potential to play the role of perfect wife and mother. When she admits that she once dreamed of flying free, and encourages Jo to embrace a life of nonconformity, Jones is especially moving. Virginia Kincaid’s wealthy “Aunt March” is disturbingly caustic and militaristic, yet (like most of the other women) she finds the hidden warmth that helps define her character. Les Ico (“Laurie”) gets the only really interesting male role, and he makes the most of it. He and Clark create a believably platonic friendship that defines Laurie as the archetype of the enlightened male (at least for the 1860’s).

Alex Woodard’s detailed and lovely set expresses the shabby chic of the impoverished but genteel March family. Phyllis Fort’s period-appropriate costume design helps transport the audience to the Civil War era. Once again, director Doreen Lundberg’s attention to detail and eye for historical drama gives local audiences a glimpse of our shared past – and, in this case, may even inspire some viewers (including one of the reviewers) to read the book!

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of “Little Women” is playing at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium through December 21st, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.









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