Review: LITTLE WOMEN Is Big News In Theatre Representation at the Strand in Baltimore

New Adaptation Prioritizes Inclusivity; Direction Fosters Realistic Family- Comedic Take Provides Lively Fun For ALL Families!

By: Dec. 08, 2023
Review: LITTLE WOMEN Is Big News In Theatre Representation at the Strand in Baltimore
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Are you ready for a holiday outing that’s lively, family-oriented, woman-centric, kid-friendly, involves no sugarplums and keeps it real? Check out Little Women at Strand in Baltimore, which plays through December 17th, 2023.

The Strand is the only brick-and-mortar theater in Baltimore dedicated solely to supporting and amplifying womxn's voices.  Pay attention to that X in Womxn! It’s important. The Strand is dedicated to supporting the voices of women and woman-identifying people. From Womxn is a term used “in intersectional feminism, as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequences m-a-n and m-e-n, and to be inclusive of trans and nonbinary women.”

Most people know some version of Little Women regardless if they’ve read Louisa May Alcott’s book; in 1912, a Broadway play; in 1918, a silent film shot in Concord, Mass; a film in 1933 starring Kathryn Hepburn; another in 1949, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Janet Leigh and June Allyson; a ballet in '69, an opera in '98, and in 2005, a Broadway musical. Audiences may be aware of the Greta Gerwig-written and directed 2019 movie; Erin Riley’s theatrical adaptation pre-dates the December opening of that film, and Riley has made recent adjustments to support non-binary gender inclusivity.

Riley’s faithful reimagining of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel is by popular demand BACK at Strand, this time under the direction of Kaitlyn Fowler, whose work as a performer has delighted many in the Baltimore area. Tonight, I learn she is also a gifted director. 

Great directing begins with excellent casting, and to this end, Kaitlyn Fowler has assembled a terrific cast that rebukes gender “norms” by putting actors into roles, disregarding whether the actor identifies as the same gender as the character. I overhear some audience members referring to “gender-bent” casting, and I pause to consider. It seems to me, in this case, at least, that we’re seeing gender blind casting, as we’ve seen color blind casting make its way (far too slowly) into contemporary performances. The popularity of Broadway’s Hamilton and television’s Bridgerton have influenced ethnic minority inclusion in theater and other media; some theaters are better about inclusivity than others. Strand, despite its basic mission to uplift the voices, perspectives and contributions of womxn in theater, is hella inclusive, which means, occasionally, cis men. I am not even a little surprised by the choices Fowler has made regarding the roles in the show. She has straight up cast the best PERSON for each role, unmindful of what’s in their underpants. 

Jo March, the lead character in the story, is beautifully played by Will Murphy. Murphy has all the facial and vocal expressiveness required to portray the high-spirited and unconventional young woman, and moves seamlessly between a retrospective narrator role and being a character in the action. Whether expressing anger, anguish, delight or frustration, Murphy is convincing and likable, and has genuine chemistry with the other performers. 

Alex Reeves, playing Meg March, is warm, worried and ever so concerned with what other folk think. Her grudging admiration of Jo’s independent spirit is crucial when it matters. That Reeves communicates all of this within the confines of the script is impressive, and she gives us a believable portrait of what a young lady of that time period “should” be. As the painfully shy Beth, Nina Jones is lovely, and delivers a character whose personal foibles and limitations don’t steal her depth of spirit and devotion to her family and her causes. It’s a delicate line, and Jones treads it confidently, the result being the audience’s unanimous investment in her turmoils. Liv Blair, playing the self-involved youngest sister Amy, delivers a flighty, frivolous girl who matures before our eyes during the course of the show. This Towson U student is believable as a twelve-year old girl, and the transformation of her costume as she matures is quite clever. Playing the best friend next door, “Laurie” Lawrence, SCAD graduate Adanya Elizabeth is striking, energetic and heartbreakingly emotional. Penelope Chan as Marmee March is firm, graceful and reserved. Her quiet energy provides balance to the frenzy of her daughters. 

Playing Mr. March, father to the quartet, and also the elderly Mr. Lawrence, is Joseph Jones Jr. His stature suggests dignity and reserve, which he employs as Mr. Lawrence, softening his posture to portray Mr. March as an injured war veteran. In both roles, he’s just lovely. Henry Kramer plays John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, as quiet and tentative; his Mr. Bhaer is excitable and gregarious, and he manages to make his hair communicate these differences as well. 

In the triple role of Aunt March/ Hannah/ Mrs. Kirke, Julia Williams is a marvel of performance versatility. As Mrs. Kirke, she’s ditsy and disorganized; as Hannah, warmly supportive. But it is as Aunt March that Williams truly excels. Her ferocious glare and judgemental chin lift are masterpieces of non-verbal character acting. She’s truly a treat to observe from the first pre-curtain moment we meet her. 

Costuming by Aria Mairin makes it very clear who is who in the story and how they differ from each other. Each outfit is appropriate for each character and looks like actual people clothing rather than prettied-up frocks and suits that might’ve been “Sunday Best,” but nobody’s for real everyday wear. Mairin uses a variety of period-appropriate garments to create a signature “look” for each character, a feat which is especially impressive in the case of the actor who portrays three different characters of three different social classes. 

Robert Books, Set Designer, delivers beautiful detail to  suggest a living room that's neither destitute nor posh, but comfortable and middle-class-ish. His concept arranges furniture all around the edges of the playing space, which allows performers to sit and observe, in character, scenes in which they do not participate. This is a choice which, if overdone, could be extremely distracting to the point of upstaging the main action, but Kaitlyn Fowler, and her cast, have a delicate touch, and occasionally observing the reaction of characters as if they were flies on the wall is a little dollop of extra fun in an already exceedingly amusing play

Under Kaitlyn Fowler’s direction, the March family becomes not idealized, but real. A real family has the commitment of familial bonds, but it also has strife and arguments. Most renditions of the Marches are tidy, sanitized, prettified. Fowler’s March family is messy and complicated, and as such, sincerely relatable. 

Intermission is 10-ish minutes, with refreshments available in the lobby. The bathroom is a onesie; visiting it before the show begins is advised.

The Strand’s neighborhood, Hamilton-Lauraville on Harford road, is gritty, like many excellent locations in Baltimore. Emma’s Tea Spot offers High Tea, which sells out two weeks ahead of time. Silver Queen Cafe seems to have New Orleans on its menu, and offers a discount in conjunction with certain ticket purchases at The Strand. Street parking in the general area is available; check  when parking “meters" are in effect/ when payment is required.

LITTLE WOMEN plays at Strand Theater through December 17th, 2023. Strand is located in the center of the block between Gibbons and Hamilton at 5426 Harford Rd. Baltimore MD 21214. For further information,  call 443-874-4917 or contact The Strand   page includes links to nearby eateries.

Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 PM; Sundays at 2 PM.

Tickets are $20 general admission/ $10 Student/Senior/Artist admission- It’s a small theater! Reserve early!  To buy tickets, visit the website.

Next up at Strand is a devised immersive theatrical experience called Alight, Sweet Hearted by Karen Li, in April. In June, Strand produces Crocodile Fever, by Meghan Taylor, a surreal black comedy amidst Ireland’s The Troubles.