The Grand Theatre’s production of “Little Women” — the theater’s first non-musical show in quite a while — is as quaint and charming as the classic novel upon which it is based, and almost entirely devoid of conflict.
Taking place over five years in 1860s Massachusetts, we see the four March girls grow up and find husbands (except for Beth, who dies instead). There’s tomboy Jo (Amy Caudill), artistic Amy (Elizabeth Edmiston), motherly Meg (Nancy Peterson) and sickly Beth (Marilyn Alldredge), though it’s difficult to tell any of their personalities apart, since they — along with everyone else in the play — speak so politely and perfectly as to almost seem unreal.
Indeed, the cast has trouble with the proper, formal language at first, though they grow into it (and the audience gets used to it) by Act II. By the end of the play, the constant use of “shall,” and the way everyone simply bursts with thoughtfulnes, kindness and pleasantness, seems normal. (I found myself holding open doors and nodding politely to passersby on my way out of the theater, and others were doing the same.)
The play works carefully to avoid any conflict, presenting this family like a Civil War-era version of “Leave it to Beaver.” Even when Jo’s mentor Professor Bhaer (Bryan P. Jacobs) rails against the newspaper she has secretly been writing for — a perfect opportunity for at least some inner turmoil, as Jo cares deeply for this man and his opinions — the issue passes without further mention.
Family friend Laurie “Teddy” Laurence (Justin Utley) declares his love for Jo, and she rebuffs him. That scene is emotionally gripping, thanks especially to all-around great performances from Caudill and Utley, but it doesn’t wind up changing their friendship, and he finds happiness elsewhere anyway.
Even when Beth dies, she has the courtesy to do it offstage.
Despite there being very little dramatic tension and a plot that is as gently moving as a mountain brook, the play charms and moves its audience.
“Little Women” has nothing to prove, no stunts to pull, no gimmicks. It’s just an enjoyable, sweet-natured show sure to soothe the souls of all who see it.
I fully expected to dis-enjoy this play, due to my having seen a really boring adaptation of the book at BYU a few years earlier. I was glad to see it overcome its inherent boringness in the Grand Theatre production.