by Michael Dresdner
L to R: Syra Beth Puett, Madelynne Lumsden
If you go to Little Women at Tacoma Youth Theatre, what you will see is an excellent production of a one act, one hour morsel of this well-known story.
What you won’t see is both more remarkable and definitely more significant. I’ll get to that shortly.
As far as the story goes, this production covers only the skeleton of the first part of Little Women; enough for us to get to know all the characters and their personalities, witness some of their challenges, and see the beginnings of their growth toward maturity, replete with scares, self-discovery, and first loves. As you probably know, the book Little Women covers the challenges, expectations, and restrictions inherent in growing up female in New England during the latter half of the 19th century.
|L to R: Isaiah Resinger, Bianca Ponnekanti|
Ostensibly, this is children’s theatre, meaning the actors are all children, but in fact, this production is quite different. It is a typical, age-appropriate cast in which the roles of neighbor Laurie and the March children are played by student actors, and very good ones at that, while the three adult roles are played by much older thespians borrowed from the regular acting community.
Let’s start with the younger set, who are all, as I said, terrific. Madelynne Lumsden calmly and confidently plays the eldest, Meg, who the family relies on for her caring maturity. Aquene Kimmel is Beth, the second sister; quiet, gentle, and sweet, struck by illness as a result of time spent visiting the poor. Bianca Ponnekanti becomes the tomboy of the group, Jo, who’d rather pursue her reading and writing than her stalwart and lovestruck neighbor, Laurie, played by Isaiah Resinger. And last, but certainly not least, is Caroline Hall who is cute as a bug’s ear as the youngest sister, Amy, proving the theatre adage that if you share the stage with young children or animals, you’re bound to be upstaged.
The three adult actors are all heavily experienced theatrical powerhouses who’ve garnered well-earned accolades in their long acting careers. Dana Galagan plays Marmee, the gentle, wise mother of the girls, Syra Beth Puett covers the haughty, sharp Aunt March, and the redoubtable Tom Birkland is Mr. Lawrence, their kindly, wealthy, avuncular neighbor.
The theater itself is an intimate 80 seat venue with audience on risers around three sides of the stage. A simple set of well-chosen furniture on a perfectly rendered fake wood floor (the work of Maggie Knott) was boosted by a series of absolutely stunning costumes. In short, it was the sort of production you expect from any serious theatre.
As I promised, I’ll spend a few words on what’s unseen. Long-time theatre experts Scott Campbell and Maggie Knott are the brains, brawn, and heart behind this venture that is much more than just theatre. They created Tacoma Youth Theatre not merely as a performance space, but as a school to use acting as a means to help young people develop both stage and life skills. Adding the three adult actors, who’ve given their time as guides and mentors, lends yet another dimension to the children’s theatrical lessons.
The play’s performance itself is but a small part of the good work being done in this building, a bit like parents’ day at school. Attending may be very rewarding, but that barely scratches the surface of the more important efforts that go on every day. Clearly, Scott and Maggie are doing a fantastic job at inspiring and training their young charges to do an equally fantastic job on the boards.
Whether you enroll your children to become part of the acting, or simply want to see a well-oiled production, you won’t be disappointed with what goes on in this welcoming and welcome addition to the Tacoma theatre scene.
April 18 to 27, 2014
Tacoma Youth Theatre