Jo March has always been ahead of her time. Following the muse of becoming a writer, she was destined to thrive in a world without road maps, role models or safety nets. And at a time when audiences are returning to live performances after a long hiatus, the newly rebranded Virginia Theater Festival presents a fresh look at Jo’s quest for identity and purpose.
“This is an opportunity to come together as an audience and have a shared experience again,” said director Aubrey Snowden, adding that the play “is just what we need right now.”
“There really is something for everyone,” Showden said. “You can find yourself in every character.
“It’s not stuffy. It doesn’t stagnate. It’s sporty in a way. It’s not your grandmother’s version of that song.”
The Virginia Theater Festival, formerly known as the Heritage Theater Festival, opens its new season – its first on stage in two years – with Kate Hamill’s updated adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved classic at the University of Virginia’s Ruth Caplin Theatre. A preview will be offered on Thursday; Opening night is Friday, and the show runs through July 31st.
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Snowden said Hamill’s interpretation of Alcott’s book will remind readers who loved the novel as a teenager that its resonant power hasn’t diminished over the years.
“She’s an incredible adaptor of the classics,” Snowden said of Hamill. “I worked on her ‘Emma’ in New York. The language feels like it could be from modern day. She has a flair for how language works.” And while generations of readers fondly remember getting lost in Alcott’s book, “what we don’t want is a museum play.”
That means you’ll see the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – as strong women and in all their girly, giggly glory. Snowden said the cast are sisters and capture the energy of teens growing into women and drawing trust from close family ties as they search for a future that suits them.
“It’s messy and fun, and it’s rough at times,” Snowden said. “These girls are just like us at the breakfast table.”
“Theatre is really about stories. This production is really about telling your own story,” said the director. “There’s so much joy that we’re getting back together.”
In Hamill’s hands, the story of the March sisters and the people they love brings together people who may have been left out in the past. This family is multiracial and there is a place for everyone at the table. “That was really important [Virginia Theatre Festival Artistic Director] jenny [Wales] and [me] that there was representation and people could see themselves on stage,” Snowden said.
The search for identity takes many forms, including “what it means to grow up in a society that expects so much of you,” Snowden said. Jo grapples with the idea of becoming a “lady” and what that could mean for her career dreams. Laurie is forced to confront his own notions of masculinity after his grandfather bought Laurie out of conscription during the Civil War, something that happened to many wealthy young men.
“They struggle with the same things,” Snowden said of Laurie and Jo.
As for Laurie, “It’s so clear that he’s desperate for a family. He is part of this family. There is kismet in the way they meet.”
The novel’s exploration of the role of women in society also reflects the family’s embrace, and the play honors them.
“Meg wants to get married. She wants that whole life,” the director said. “Jo wants something else. She wrestles with what it means to be great—a great writer—and doesn’t let any of those expectations sway her.”
The cast includes Deandra McDonald as Marmee March, Christine Jacobs as Meg March, Sanjana Taskar as Jo March, Summer Ainsworth as Beth March, Alexa Moore as Amy March, Anish Pinnamaraju as Laurie, Abbey Toot as Hannah/Mrs. Mingott/Aunt March, James Stringer Jr. as John Brooks/Parrot. Dan Toot as Mr. Laurence/Mr. March/Mr. Dashwood, Alex Mitchell as understudy Jo March/Meg March, Shelby Marie Edwards as understudy Beth March/Amy March, Jamie Virostko as Understory Marmee/Hannah/Mrs. Mingott/Aunty March, Ethan Mitchell as understudy Laurie/John Brooke/Parrot and Perry Medlin as understudy Mr. Laurence/Mr. March/Mr. dashwood
The creative team behind the March sisters’ world includes lighting designer R. Lee Kennedy, set designer Anita Tripathi, production manager Morgan Jordan, assistant director Max Tankersley, sound designer Michael Rasbury, costume designer Grier Coleman and assistant stage manager Sarah Patisaul.
As the pandemic has not gone away, VTF is offering socially distanced performances on Sunday, Tuesday and July 24th and 26th. If you buy a pair of tickets, the seats between you and neighboring spectators will not be available to create a comfortable distance.
“I want people to feel safe whenever they come. I want people to feel comfortable whenever they come,” Snowden said.
Next up in the Virginia Theater Festival season is No Fear and Blues Long Gone: Nina Simone, which opens August 3 at UVa’s Culbreth Theater. Yolanda Rabun stars in the one-woman show about the legendary singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist.
Remember that Little Women includes a content recommendation. The play contains discussions and depictions of gender identity, racism, illness, postpartum depression and death.
Tickets cost between $35 and $15. The Virginia Theater Festival is a UVa program and is supported by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, the Office of the Provost and Vice Provost for the Arts, the UVa Department of Drama and UVa Arts. Visit artsboxoffice.virginia.edu for tickets and details or call (434) 924-3376.