Swift Creek Mill's production of Peter Clapman's adaptation of "Little Women" is as thought-provoking as a tea party all sweetness and no substance. The compelling point of Louisa May Alcott's novel is how the family made it through the bad times of the Civil War through their bond of love and caring, by acknowledging the bad and striving through it.
The March family, in this production, seem to smirk and smile through their hard times like simpletons without a notion that there is sickness, poverty and strife all around them. This Pollyanna attitude upsets the balance necessary to make the play meaningful and believable. That said, this production offers the perfect opportunity to introduce the story of Jo March and her immediate universe to the children in your life.
My feeling is that if a company chooses to put on a costume play such as "Little Women," where the focus is on the women, then it must commit to excellent costumes and hair. In this production, the costumes are horrendous and the hair even worse. The costumes look ill-fitting, inexcusable for that era, and the lack of corsets allow the female cast members to move too fast and freely. Joy Williams as Marmee modifies her existing, modern hairstyle simply by tucking her side-swept bangs into a snood. Her physical interpretation of the role is so contemporary I expected her to hop into an SUV to take the kids to Starbucks before soccer practice. Marmee is supposed to be the example of appropriate behavior for her daughters. I cannot imagine her slouching, running or hugging Mr. Laurence under any circumstances.
Performances by Alice Schreiner and Paul Deiss are bright spots in the show. Schreiner is classic as the crotchety Aunt March, whipping the other characters with sharp quips and observations. Her timing and delivery are impeccable a joy to watch. She is perfect in this role. Paul Deiss' Mr. Brook is adorable in his pursuit of Meg. He is gentlemanly and reserved, but the audience gets a clear sense of his underlying affections. When he reveals a glove of Meg's in his possession, he is both tender and passionate, evoking sighs and giggles from the audience.
This version of "Little Women" is no intellectual challenge but is a charming way to spend an afternoon or evening with family. S
"Little Women" is playing at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, through March 22. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. with some matinees at 2:30 p.m. and select Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $31.50-$33.50. Call 748-5203 or www.swiftcreekmill.com.
Theater critics Mary Burruss and David Timberline write about the developments in the theater scene on their blog, www.richmondvatheater.blogspot.com.