Theater review: Hendersonville Little Theatre’s “Little Women”

Photo by Kai Elijah Hamilton

In a holiday season filled with the expected shows around the local theater scene, Little Women might seem like a strange choice. However, it was the popular audience choice for Hendersonville Little Theatre‘s Christmastime show. Plus, act 1 begins just days before Christmas, and act 3 closes the show a year later, so there are plenty of reasons why this is a timely production.

The Louisa May Alcott classic has many generations of fans who know that any successful presentation hinges on the young ladies who fill the title roles. This production is graced with four talented actresses: Blakely Bristol brings a mousy quality to the role of Beth March, while Michelle Fleming gives a touch of glamor to oldest sister Meg. The two standouts are 11-year-old Hollis Green as the mischievous Amy and the anchor of the show, Annabelle Cram, who gives a solid professional performance as Jo.

The story, set during the Civil War, shows a family of strong women who try to make their way after their father goes off to war. Along the way there is young love: Jo and Meg fall for the neighbor’s grandson and his tutor ā€” played by Miles Rice and Blake Smith, respectively. Both men are quite charming and able as Laurie and Mr. Brooke. In supporting roles Lynn Pace, Kathleen Riddle and Jack McConnell provide the adult perspective since the March sisters are just coming to learn the trials and tribulations of adulthood.

My only major quibble is with the script by Peter Clapham. Perhaps Iā€™m incorrectly remembering much of the original book, but it was hard to feel sympathetic with the characters. The show opens with the girls struggling to give gifts as Christmas nears. They all complain of the near-poverty in which they live, yet are overly obsessed with social conventions and traditions. They spend much of the show worrying over wearing stained gloves and other trivial things that feel wildly out of place with their plight. When Jo sells her hair to help fund her mother’s trip to visit her ailing father, the audience laughs while Jo sobs because she reveals that she is weeping for her lost locks. This, while the family sings hymns around the piano. And remember, the father is potentially dying hundreds of miles away. As I said, it makes it hard to sympathize with them, and I walked away feeling that the version Clapham chose to tell was not definable as a “classic.”

As an added holiday twist, the costumes, props and set pieces were being offered for sale to audience members. This made for an odd moment at the intermission when someone dressed as Santa was circulating a ring that one of the characters wore. Still, the loyal fan base at Hendersonville Little Theatre seemed to love it, start to finish.

Little Women runs through Sunday, Dec. 21. Shows are Thursday through Saturday, at 7:30 pm., and Sunday, at 2 p.m. $10 youth/$15 students/$20 adults.

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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