BWW Review: MEG JO BETH AMY & LOUISA at Southwest Shakespeare Company
Broadway World Review: meg jo beth amy & louisa
Tier5 Theatre Company's revise/devise ensemble takes on Little Women from the perspective of Louisa May Alcott and the family who inspired her. In this re-telling, Louisa is seen grappling with her sexuality, grief, forgiveness, anger, and love as she writes the story demanded by her publisher. The characters are familiar, but are presented in a distinctive and contemporary way.
Louisa is played by Hilary Kelman, who also helped write and develop the play. Louisa is present on stage the entire performance, which is no small feat. Kelman clearly has a connection with Alcott and has taken the time to understand her so as to portray her honestly. That honesty is raw and real, especially as Alcott struggles to be honest with herself and her characters.
Niles the Publisher is played by James Cougar Canfield, who was also involved in the development of the play. Niles is insufferable. He demands that Louisa write what the public craves, and attempts to squelch her talent by dictating what she should write and how to write it. Canfield is abrasive and oppressive as Niles, which serves to give Louisa a stronger voice.
Louisa's sisters, fictional and actual, bring the story to life. Meg/Anna is played by Hannah Mackenzie Fontes. Fontes is graceful, funny, and brings realistic exasperation to a "pretty" character. Beth/Lizzie is played by Michi Walker. Walker underscores many of the importance scenes with quiet dignity. She plays the piano beautifully, and gently reminds us that grief is not only felt by those left behind. Amy/May is played by Margaret Gorrell with youthful exuberance. Gorrell is direct and authentic, which is refreshing. Louisa's sisters guided her and while she took liberties with some of the facts, it is clear that she loved her sisters and learned valuable lessons from them that helped her succeed. Fontes, Walker, and Gorrell support Kelman; the genuine love the sisters felt for one another comes through in the text and the portrayals of these fantastic actors.
Jo March is played by Megan Holcomb. She also has a special closeness with Fontes, Walker, and Gorrell, but as the fictional representation of Louisa. Maybe Jo can say things Louisa could not, and Holcomb navigates this with understanding and honesty. Holcomb shares intimate moments with every member of the cast, and despite Jo's self-proclaimed awkwardness, Holcomb makes her relatable.
As Marmee/Abigail/Aunt March, Carol Bennett is awesome. Bennett handles conflicting emotions as a weary mother, and the abrasive nature of Aunt March. I especially loved the first time Aunt March takes the stage and the unique presentation created by the cast. Bennett delivers a worthy representation of a woman admired by her daughters, who lived a troubled life and found joy regardless of her circumstances.
As Laurie, Avery Jones presents the character with sincerity. Laurie experiences hope, sadness, devastation, love, and rejection. Jones leans into each of these emotions and leaves no doubt as to why everyone wants Jo to marry Laurie. Jones is honest, funny, and personable.
The other members of the cast: Devon Mahon, Joshua Murphy, and Michelle Herro, each play several important roles. It is impressive to watch them transform from one character to another, sometimes right before our eyes. The show is quite funny, although the contemporary vernacular removes some of the impact of Alcott's story and the depth of her feelings. It is obvious that the cast loves this show and the performing it is wonderful fun.
Directed by Ariel Francoeur, meg jo beth amy & louisa is a splendid representation of family, personal strife, the agony of love, and the reality of death. The play is presented by Southwest Shakespeare Company and Tier5 Theatre Company at Taliesin West through February 2, 2020. Tickets can be purchased here. I highly recommend this production. All of us suffer from the human condition, but there is art, such as this, that helps us identify and process these complex emotions from which we cannot escape.
Photo Credit: Southwest Shakespeare and Tier5 Theatre Company