It’s a tale that resonates today -- the story of a mother and her four children who must learn to cope while their husband and father is away at war.
But in Little Women, the war is the Civil War, not Iraq. The City of Savannah’s Cultural Arts Theatre will present a play based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel beginning Feb. 23.
Alcott’s novel was based loosely on her own childhood. This stage version was written by Peter Clapham, and tells the story of the March family, who are growing up in New England during the Civil War era.
The cast includes Courtney Presley as Amy March, Ansley Davis as Beth March, Sage Tipton as Jo March, Casey Adams as Meg March and Mary Ann McKellar as the girls’ mother. Marmee.
Tipton is a freshman at Armstrong Atlantic State University and plans to major in theater. She has appeared in several stage productions, which led to her role as Jo.
“D.J. said he was impressed with my performance in Picnic and thought I should audition for Little Women,” Tipton says. “I read the book when I was a child and enjoyed the story. Amy was my favorite character. She’s so funny.”
But Tipton has no regrets about being cast as Jo instead of Amy. “Jo is so much fun to play,” she says. “She’s such a compelling character, I’m glad I have the opportunity to play her.”
McKellar, who plays Marmee, started her acting career in Savannah. “I started doing community theater as a teenager,” she says. “I didn’t do anything with it, because I thought ‘real’ people weren’t doing acting.”
Later, while McKellar was living in Atlanta, she got the opportunity of a lifetime. “In my 30s, I ended up studying at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain,” she says. “They take 30 Americans every year.”
After returning to the U.S. and doing more work in films and television, and McKellar moved to Los Angeles. “I stayed eight years, but I was a guppy in the ocean rather than a big fish in a little pond the way I had been in Atlanta,” she says.
“Of course, I was going into it at age 36. That was ancient in Hollywood terms.”
McKellar saw an ad for Little Women and decided to audition. “I hadn’t done theater in Savannah for 30 years,” she says. “It sounded like it was going to be a fun thing to work on. I didn’t have children, but in this, I get to be a mom.’
Though the original version was written in 1868, it remains timely. “There are so many families today with no husband in the home right now because of war,” McKellar says. “This play shows how everyone has to pitch in to make up for that.”
Director D.J. Queenan is the Theatre Arts Coordinator for the Department of Cultural Affairs. We exchanged e-mails recently between rehearsals.
Why do you think Little Women is as popular today as it was when it was first published?
D.J. Queenan: I’m sure Little Women will remain popular because of the strong patriotism reflected in the female characters. From the girls, to Marmee, to Aunt March, these women represent the strength and courage needed to survive the world’s struggles.
What are the pitfalls of staging a classic?
D.J. Queenan: A pitfall of bringing a classic like this to the stage is thinking that these wonderful young women were different than those that surround us today. Whether it be yesterday or today, the mix of wartime with childhood has a strong and timeless message.
Which character is your favorite and why?
D.J. Queenan: All of the characters in this piece resonate, but my favorite would have to be Jo. She stands in great contrast to the others as an individual spirit who longs to break the bonds of conventionality.
Was it difficult to choose actresses to play the roles?
D.J. Queenan: The great difficulty in casting this play was having so many talented young actors come out! I could have had two complete sets of sisters!
What will the costumes be like?
D.J. Queenan: Emily Langley, a fashion alumnus of SCAD, is designing the costumes for the show. Emily has worked for me before and brings a great passion to the work. All of the costumes will reflect the Civil War period in the northern states.
Did you decide to do Little Women because it’s difficult getting men to act?
D.J. Queenan: Among the many factors involved in choosing this piece was the enormous amount of young women that show up at all my auditions. If that is the type of actor responding to my work, then I’m going to put on a piece with them in mind. nç
Cultural Arts Theatre will present Little Women Feb. 23 and 24 and March 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 25 and March 4 at 3 p.m. in the Black Box at S.P.A.C.E., at 9 W. Henry St. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students and seniors. Call 651-6782 or 6783.