From Fairies and Fables to Men and Realities

By on 27 October, 2017 in Art, Fun, Sarah Thornton with 0 Comments

“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” – Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was an advocate for social change. During her lifetime, women did not have many options. Marriage to a wealthy family was the highest level of “success” to which a young woman could aspire. A headstrong, spirited, intelligent girl like Louisa, who did not come from a family of means, traveled several paths in hopes of finding the right one: sewing, teaching, housework, even working as a governess and companion for wealthy families. Young girls from homes without money had to earn a living to help support their needs, but their options were extremely limited and very dissatisfying for girls with dreams or ambitions beyond being a wife and mother. While Louisa’s sisters embraced the roles they were expected to play, Louisa was unable to conform. She struggled to do what was “expected” of her, and yet her passion and talent for writing and travel and adventure persisted.

“… I will make a battering-ram of my head and make my way through this rough and tumble world.”

Several books of Louisa May Alcott’s letters and poetry have been published, and reading them gives tremendous insight into how incredibly forward-thinking and expressive her writing was, even from a very early age. She challenged the standards to which women of her time were held. She campaigned for equality and pushed back against an extremely low glass ceiling. Her writing began to receive attention, her poetry and short stories appearing in magazines and newspapers, but she achieved new acclaim in her accounts of her time as a nurse in the Civil War. She was commissioned to write a “book for girls,” and so Little Women was born. While this book is based on her own life, filled with sentiment and coming of age stories, it also has a strong underlying message about the parts women have to play and how to find your own voice in a world that demands that you speak softly.

“I like good, strong words that mean something,” Louisa wrote.  Jo, the autobiographical character of the novel, faces all of Louisa’s own struggles in society. Jo’s writing is her escape, and her journey to find who she is in a world where she never seems to fit is a universal one.

Louisa’s love of letters is evident in Little Women, as they appear in every chapter. In today’s world, we take for granted that we can send a quick text, make a phone call, fire off a tweet in a matter of seconds, with little cognizance of  how powerful and important the written word can be. “The pen is mightier than the sword,” as they say, and the strong message that writing is Jo’s only useful weapon in a war-torn country is an incredibly powerful one. During the American Civil War era, when Little Women takes place, the process of handwriting a letter was much more involved, and stamps to mail them were a luxury. Words carried a lot of weight, were chosen carefully, and were read hungrily. Often months would go by without receiving any word from loved ones, and sadly many letters did not carry good news.

In the Playhouse’s upcoming production of Little Women, letters are a major device. We are embracing the simpler lifestyle of the March family with an incredibly streamlined set, minimal costuming and technology, and a humble steamer trunk that produces most of the props and elements of the world. This “trunk show” style of storytelling allows the words to do the work. The actors create the world through imagination and clear, simple delivery of the text. The heart of the narrative is allowed to shine through without the razzle dazzle. As Louisa May Alcott describes in her novel, this same sense of play and simple storytelling is mirrored by the March sisters, whose favorite pastime is performing Jo’s plays for their friends and family in their living room with paper hats and jar-lid armor, with imagination and a dash of magic. In the play, Jo asks her father, “What can there be in a simple, little story?” “There is truth in it, Jo…”

Tickets for LITTLE WOMEN at the Cloverdale Playhouse are on sale now. The show runs from Nov. 30 through Dec. 10, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Visit www.cloverdaleplayhouse.org or call the box office at (334)262-1530 for more information.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

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