Little Women at the Cloverdale Playhouse

By on 1 December, 2017 in Amanda Burbank, Art, Fun with 0 Comments

By Melissa Tubbs

The Cloverdale Playhouse’s production of Little Women is sweetly nostalgic. Its minimalist stage design is like a line drawing; it is like the edges of memories, giving bits of form to contrast the blank spaces which are just as rich. In the absence of specific details in the set, which consist simply of a trunk, several stools, a piano and a sheet, our imaginations fill in the rest. We remember our own youths and perhaps our first long-ago impressions of the story being told. Our vision is intensified as we are subconsciously aware of what isn’t shown.

Similarly, some of the most poignant scenes in this production are the ones that emphasize absence. Much of the story is told through letters, as characters stay connected to one another over distances that can only be bridged by lovingly penned words. The actor receiving the letter begins to read and their emotional connection to the far-away loved one is beautifully felt by the audience as they imagine and we hear the voice of the letter writer sending simple windows into their lives or messages of cheer.

One unique way of storytelling featured in this production is the use of shadow plays, which also creates a sense of distance, leaving room for the audience’s imagination to fill in the empty spaces. The shadows are artistic and well used, enhancing the story and adding visually to the experience of the play. One way the shadows add depth to the story is by clearly linking us back to the joys and playfulness of childhood through child actors Temperance and Jason Grinstead, adding to the poignancy of witnessing the process of the March girls growing up.

The simple set is practically a blank slate for creating any scene, as are the monochromatic costumes, which are visually appealing layers of lovely whites, tiered skirts and blouses with unique details designed by Danny Davidson-Cline. The trunk is a trunk. It is where Jo keeps her stories hidden away, the stories she and her sisters will act out in the Pickwick Society, the story she will someday write and we are currently seeing performed. It is a treasure chest full of small props that will help the actors travel time, change characters, and set the stage for each new scene by making some subtle change to what was existing. But the trunk is also a desk, bed, table, seat, even Laurie’s house. It’s movement often signifies the beginning of a new scene.

Like in a dream of a memory we are pulled into the story being told and the faces of the background characters are blurred and the settings are vague and yet we know them. With a cast of nine actors stepping in to play multiple roles, the talented cast makes this work. Every little vignette is a story within the story. A moment in time in the Marchs’ lives.

We care about the Marches because of their relationships with each other. The actors’ chemistry with each other is gentle when it should be – between mother and daughters, and between sisters. Even the connection with their absent father, played by Adam Shepherd, was touching as conveyed through letters and the joyful Christmas reunion. But with a character like Alcott’s Jo March gentle isn’t always the tone.

Sarah Kay, who is new to the Cloverdale Playhouse and who played Jo, brings the passion to the character that made generations of readers, as well as Laurie and Professor Bhaer, fall in love with Jo. Her physical performances are also exciting such as an infuriated brawl with Amy, played by Kacey Walton, and dancing with Laurie, played by Matthew Klinger. The couple’s raucous mock sword fight through the aisles is perfectly contrasted by the very proper and grown-up scene between Meg, played by Lauren Morgan, and Mr. Brooke, played by J. Scott Grinstead, which they are interrupting. Grinstead, who also did the set design, plays both Meg and Jo’s love interests and he does a fine job of creating unique personas for each. In fact, for a moment I thought they might have been played by different actors.

In addition to the cast, which also included the talented Teri Sweeney, Katie Pearson, and Valorie Roberts, the play features three live musicians: Patrick Darby on piano, Laura Walters on violin, and Austin Shuffitt on guitar. The pleasing songs composed by Greg Thornton bring a feeling of continuity through the passing of time and the setting changes. They provide a feeling of familial comfort that suits the themes of the play.

During one scene the girls shared their dreams, of being a writer, artist and managing a home. As they did I thought of my own childhood ambitions and which dreams I should set out to pursue today. I imagine young Sarah Walker Thornton might have once aspired to do something Grand, much like protagonist and writer Jo, and Thornton certainly has, channeling Jo. Adapting a beloved book, that spans so many years and settings, so creatively into a play that could be practically performed in community theater, and then directing it and bringing it to the stage was ambitious and impressive. It was a pleasure to experience this dream that has become a reality.

During the holiday season you can visit this comforting story with your family and friends at the Cloverdale Playhouse, 960 Cloverdale Road. The production runs through Dec. 10 with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and on Sundays at 2:30pm. Doors open 1 hour prior to showtime. Tickets range from $10 to $18. Call (334) 262-1530 for tickets or purchase tickets online.

Amanda Burbank is an observer, savorer, poet, artist, mother, wife, and lover of beauty and life. Unexpected events found her family living nestled in the deep south woods within a family home built by her great grandfather. From there, she works as a freelance writer and photographer. Her heart is to live a life of acceptance and perhaps help others to see beauty in the unlikely through well crafted words and photographs of lovely ordinary everyday moments.

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