116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After nearly a week of polishing a production in the rain, a lovely breeze chased away threatening clouds and bestowed a perfect evening for Friday’s world premiere of “Little Women” in Brucemore’s courtyard.
Theatre Cedar Rapids chose wisely and well in all aspects of mounting this adaptation by Chicago-based actor Heather Chrisler, who, with her husband, reveled in finally seeing her words leap to the stage. A different, initial production was days away from opening in Chicago when the pandemic shut it down.
But Chrisler said she was thrilled to see how director Saffron Henke, production designer S. Benjamin Farrar, costume designer Joni Dee Sackett and the cast would run with the script’s creative outlines.
The production is flawless.
In the shadow of the historic mansion where three Douglas daughters acted out plays in the attic on the servants’ side of the house, Farrar’s blending of blue, green and teal gives a dreamy, fairy-tale ambience to the attic where the four March sisters play out Jo’s fanciful tales. The scenery also allows the actors to move seamlessly to other settings and scenarios during their journey to adulthood.
Cupboards, boxes and a trap door give them easy access to the costumes, props and movement that further the action. Simple touches, like balloons waving in the breeze, bring a light, ethereal quality to the magic unfolding onstage.
Megan Robinson’s soundtrack of hymns and folk songs, along with her period choreography, anchors the action in the Civil War era, and Sackett’s beautiful, versatile costumes allow the actors to cross the years and genders, as three of the four women occasionally step into the roles of the girls’ suitors.
Out of necessity, the quickest changes happen onstage, which adds to the make-believe quality of the memories Jo eventually will chronicle in one of the most beloved tales that continues to enamor audiences more than 150 years after it was published.
What: Theatre Cedar Rapids, Brucemore collaboration
Where: Brucemore Courtyard, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: To June 6; 7:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday; gate opens at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $100 table of up to four; $25 limited individual seating; (319) 366-8591 or theatrecr.org/event/little-women/2021-05-21/
Parking: Enter through Linden Drive; no parking on Dows Lane
Extras: Masks required except when seated; light snacks and drinks allowed; concessions available; hand sanitizer available; bring bug spray
The acting is sublime.
All four young women are energy fireballs as they romp through nearly two hours of pleasure, pain and pathos. Even if you know the story, the ending will leave you breathless and in tears.
Mackenzie Elsbecker brings tenderness and toughness to tomboy Jo March, an aspiring writer determined to break out of every mold that tries to contain her.
Lily Gast brings brattiness to Amy March, the baby of the family who wants to be the star of everything. But really, she hates being too young for the adventures her big sisters are having. She’s always afraid she’ll miss out on something.
In other instances, Gast transforms into John Brooke, the tutor who will marry and complete sister Meg’s life. Or so Meg thinks.
One of the show’s highlights is seeing the usually calm oldest sister melt down over a culinary disaster. Erin Grams is hilarious as Meg’s fury intensifies, spinning embroidery hoops to punctuate her frustration.
Grams also turns in a lovely characterization of Professor Baehr, who angers Jo with his candor as he encourages her to abandon her sensational vampire tales that make money, but fail to capture the beauty and spirit of the young woman he knows.
Noel VanDenBosch creates one of the loveliest versions of serene Beth that I’ve seen. She is the sister who finds solace in hugging her favorite doll and watching the action unfold around her. She brings tranquillity and unity to the sisters, and her fate is heartbreaking.
Likewise, as neighbor boy Laurie — initially smitten with Jo, and later with Amy — VanDenBosch uses her height and stance to create completely believable opposite sex couples — except for a tween girl near me who giggled over a kiss, saying, “Aren’t they sisters?”
An all-ages, sold-out audience showered the show with cheers, whistles and a well-deserved standing ovation.
"Little Women“ continues through June 6. Audience capacity is limited to 120, mostly at tables of four, with a few single seats available. Several productions are sold out, so don’t wait too long to get your tickets to a lovely evening in a historic setting that celebrates family. It will do your heart good.
Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org