REVIEW: Little Women (OJ Productions, Philadelphia)
Updated: Sep 3
The Sisters March Through an Uneven Adaptation.
Louisa May Alcott's seminal novels about four young sisters as they navigate life, growing into women, and their own individual pursuits were first released in 1868 and 1869, respectively. Since their initial release, the novels have primarily been published together under the singular title Little Women. (Though, if you live in the UK or Canada, part two is still primarily published as a second book called Good Wives.) It was, and continues to be, a smashing success resulting in countless adaptations across different mediums throughout the years. OJ Productions, a relatively new theatre company in Philadelphia, brings to the stage the 2010 adaptation by Jaqueline Goldfinger in a production that struggles to capture the charm and warmth of the March family.
Adaptation Gone Awry
Little Women is a story known to most people. The four sisters' story has helped countless generations navigate the perilous journey from childhood to adulthood. This adaptation makes some strange choices in retelling this story, the largest being the choice to condense the entire plot of both novels into the span of one year. Each book covers roughly a year in the lives of the sisters, with a three year stretch of time between the first and second. This narrative structure of the novels allows for the characters arcs to be more defined and clear, massaged further by the passing of time.
Shortening the amount of time passed, while still including many of the events from the book (albeit in a different order) doesn't allow for the characters to develop to a place where some of their adult decision making makes sense, as they are still supposed to be teenagers. This condensed structure doesn't allow for much connection between the characters, and instills a rushed sense into many of the story's dramatic beats. It is especially noticeable in the second act, as each scene chronicles the more dramatic moments in rapid succession, making you wonder how many events and occurrences can happen to a family in one year.
A Small Company Doing the Most
OJ Productions is a relatively new company in the Philadelphia Theatre scene, having started with a film production in 2021, and theatrically during Philadelphia Fringe 2022. They are a multimedia company, which is a fascinating and welcome addition to the Philly scene. For a new company, they certainly know what they're doing from a technical stand point. I've seen a lot of new companies not able to pull off the level of quality in terms of set and costuming that is on display with Little Women. The costumes are wonderfully designed by Conlee Northcutt, evoking the Civil War era modesty and keeping an eye to what people of different class standings would wear. The set, designed by director Jack Taylor, similarly brings the March household to life, serving the play well in it's ability to accentuate the warmth and love of the family, and similarly elevate the more intense sadness when for example, a certain doomed sister (spoilers for a book 150 years old) contracts scarlet fever. He is also a deft director, fully utilizing the space he has created, and navigating the odd adaptation well.
Odd adaptation aside, beyond the technical skill on display, the production falters in the consistency of the performances. There isn't quite the cohesion of performance style that stylistically connects all the performers together in the same show. Some of the performances feel over the top, while others are almost too subdued. That is not to say that the performers aren't giving their all to the show. Rachel DeMasi and Kristen Taylor, as Marmee and Amy respectively, are standouts. DeMasi brings a compassionate mothering energy throughout, but really shines in a scene with Jo towards the end of the play. Taylor is the comedic force of the piece, playing the obnoxious baby sister to the letter. The rest of the cast channels their characters well, though I must admit to being confused by the choice to make Laurie (played by Bea Main) way more lecherous than previous incarnations. it made the character come off more like a man cycling through the sisters to find the right match, as opposed to the adoptive-brother-who-conflates-friendship-with-romance figure he is in the books.
Support the Small Companies
The Philadelphia Theatre community consists of a handful of large theaters, and then a ton of smaller independent companies. Sadly, during the pandemic a fair amount of those companies shuttered their doors permanently. To see a new production company create a space for itself and strive forward with an ambitious second production is something to be commended. This production company is also made up of a lot of recent college graduates, creating some of their first non educational art, which is exciting and encouraging to see. Even though I didn't personally vibe with some aspects of this production, this company has a lot of potential to grow into a real heavy hitter in this city. These are the kind of companies that made the Philadelphia Theatre scene so vibrant before the pandemic, and they are the ones we should be fostering and supporting now more than ever.
Little Women is on stage at the
Skinner Theatre at Plays & Players.
1714 Delancy St.
Running from August 18th-27th.
For more information,
including tickets, visit: