Little Women is not a “chick flick”.
Let’s get that clear from the beginning, says Julie McIsaac, who has directed the actors in the Chemainus Theatre Festival’s production of the famous story by Louisa May Alcott.
A musical version of Little Women is the Christmas season presentation at the Chemainus Theatre this year. It runs from Nov. 16 to Dec. 30, but you’d better contact the theatre right away for tickets, especially if you are looking for a special date, because the holiday is a busy time at Chemainus.
McIsaac played Meg in the production of Little Women at the theatre in 2005, she says.
“What’s really fun about this is that it’s really, really well known and a lot of people have pre-existing relationships with it; you’re starting place already has so much richness in it. That’s something I read when I was younger and I thought about it when I did the first production in 2005 and now that I’m returning with this production. What I love, and this is why classics are classics, is that every time you return to it, there’s something new. A different layer is revealed, or depending on where you are in your life, with your relationship with the world, you pick out different things that you didn’t necessarily notice the first time. And that’s why certain works endure in our imaginations.”
For those who only know the book, Little Women, there are some alterations to the story. The cast includes Mr. March, and Frederick (Fritz) Bhaer, for instance.
“There is also one of the soldiers in the story, his name is H.P. Meeks and in the book Beth meets this group of children that are visiting from England and she strikes up a conversation with this one boy, who is injured so he can’t play with the others. That character isn’t in this production per se but this soldier sort of absorbed the iteration of that character. While that soldier is a bit of a construction for this, it does have its roots very firmly in the novel. That’s what’s fun when you adapt things for the stage. How do you take the spirit of the original and make it work with only nine actors and only two hours?”
The four girls all play their parts in this story but the production “is really rooting itself in Jo as the primary narrator,” McIssac said.
“It’s important, too, because she stands in for Louisa May Alcott and in her role in the family, but at the same time we want to clearly place ourselves in the 1860s and the Civil War. How can we bring the battle front to the forefront, and how can we become aware of what was going on at home at the time and on the front? So, you’ll see soldiers, particularly in the early going when the war is still something the characters are contending with.”
It’s pretty obvious to readers that Jo in the story is “Lou” Alcott as she was growing up, because the writing of that character, in particular, is so personal.
“You just know that it’s based on something true. That’s what makes it so good. Something else I’ve been really drawn to as we work on this is the individual’s capacity for transformation. In the novel, the girls really hone in on aspects of themselves that they want to improve upon. They really want to be the best versions of themselves, and that’s something that’s instilled in them by their parents. In addition to Jo, who just wants to transform herself into a boy for the freedom of it, we see them all go on these journeys of transformation. Whether it’s Beth’s learning to accept her fate, or Meg getting over her memories of when they were well-to-do and had all this money, and Amy’s transformation is really beautiful: how she and Laurie help one another become the best versions of themselves.”
Christmas is a magical time of transformation, of looking at who you are within your family and outside of it.
“It’s been fun to reflect on all those things, and what’s universal about this story. Yes, it’s called Little Women but it’s not just a story for girls. Our capacity to create our realities and transform ourselves when we go out into the world: that, for me, is what this story is all about.”
It’s especially good as the theatre’s holiday season offering, too, she said.
“So many of the events in the novel are rooted in Christmas time. It begins at Christmas. The family grapples with how to celebrate Christmas as a family when one of the pieces is missing. They receive advice and wisdom from Marmee that helps them all move forward and then next year at Christmas we see that piece coming back. It’s very much rooted in Christmas, so if you’re looking at spending some quality time with your family over Christmas, it’s definitely going to have snow!”