Encore Michigan

What A Do offers beautiful retelling of classic story

Review October 13, 2013 Bridgette Redman

Strong women in real-life situations are what opened the What A Do season of classics. Set in 1863, “Little Women” is an adaptation by Marisha Chamberlain of Louisa May Alcott’s book about the March family.

From the famous opening of “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” the four March sisters create a lively production of this lovely, meaningful adaptation, led by director Randy Wolfe. Chamberlain chooses well what elements to include, from lesser-known incidents to those key plot elements of the bestselling novel.

Ashlyn Nicole Shawver, a What A Do regular, plays the part of Jo, the boyish scribbler who wants to be a writer rather than a girl. She’s energetic and easily connects with each of the other players upon the stage.

Averi Beck, a freshman in high school, shines as Amy. She manages to capture everything that is classic about the character in her expressions, the way she carries herself, the way she talks, and the choices she makes about the character. She is prissy and sometimes infuriating, but she still manages to be sympathetic, vulnerable and completely lovable.

Tara Bouldrey’s Beth is shy and easily flustered. She’s quiet, loves music and constantly shows in her expressions how much she is intimidated by crowds and people outside the family.

Kristin Marie Stelter’s Meg struggles with growing up and becoming a woman. She is the calming force in the family, always trying to bring people together and balancing out Jo’s high spirits.

The four are delightful together in the first scene when they put on one of Jo’s plays for Christmas, performing before Sarah Gillette’s Marmee and Stacy Little’s Hannah. It is this scene that sets up their relationships: their affections, their squabbles, their strengths, their weaknesses and, most importantly, the bond of family that ties them all together.

Sam Friia’s Laurie is a perfect match for Shawver’s Jo. He is mischievous, filled with secrets and games, and adores the entire family. Their friendship is so strong and well-connected, it seems impossible that they should not end up together at the end of the play, despite what the classic tale set out.

Gary K. Reed’s Old Mr. Laurence captures well the kindly neighbor who sees the good in his poorer neighbors and wants to celebrate their goodness by being a part of their lives. Scott Whitesell is given very little stage time in this version to show why Meg would fall in love with Brooke, Laurie’s tutor, but the adaptation gives plenty of reason through letters and Meg’s response to the kindness he shows the family.

Bill Sutherland’s father was the weak point of the acting troupe, though his part was thankfully limited to the final scene. His choices veered toward anger rather than good humor and understanding, and it was out of place and uncomfortable in this genteel family – and in particular toward a daughter who was struggling with recent trauma and heartbreak.

The set deserves high praise both for Joshua Olgine’s design, Samantha Snow and Brandy Morgan’s painting, and Thomas Koehler’s detailed, period props. Everything spoke of a Civil War era house and a family that had fallen on hard times but still worked hard and kept things looking nice. The wide stage accommodated an outside scene on the other side of an open window seat. Olgine also managed in this low-ceilinged space to create an attic that was Jo’s writing retreat. There were a few challenges on opening night with pieces not working according to plan and falling over, but the actors responded in character to each mishap to minimize the distraction.

The What A Do production faithfully brings the drama and story of family ties and love to the stage. With Rachel Markillie’s Louisa May Alcott providing narration at the beginning and end, it is able to tell the tale well without getting bogged down in some of the slower moments of the book. It is instead a well-paced drama told well by fine performers.

Week of 9/25/2023

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