If you’re reading this — an article previewing a theatrical production in your local paper — you probably know how “Little Women” ends.
The late-1860s novel by Louisa May Alcott has endured in both libraries and classrooms, and adaptations continue to appear both on stage and screen, ensuring anyone who wants to can be well acquainted with the sprawling (and public domain) saga of the March family.
Still, that familiarity doesn’t mean you know how Perseverance Theatre’s upcoming co-production of “Little Women” plays out. This version, adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by Cara Hinh, both recontextualizes characters and zooms in to focus on an especially formative period in the lives of the March sisters, instead of depicting the novel’s full arc.
The “highly theatrical” structure leaves space for viewers, cast and crew to envision possibilities for Jo (Ema Zivkovic), Meg (Maya Carter), Amy (Grace Goodyear), Beth (Jiayi Ying) and company that depart from what was written 150 years ago, Hinh said.
“You’ve got your tie to classic literature thing, it’s fun and twisty and turny, and it feels just as exciting as the first time,” Hinh said of the joint production between the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Department of Theatre and Dance and Perseverance Theatre.
Infamously, Alcott initially envisioned Jo — widely accepted as a self-insert in the semiautbiographical book — as a “literary spinster,” like Alcott, but at the insistence of publishers, a marriage was written for the character. But in the play set to open Friday, Jo is resigned to no such fate.
“I hope, for Jo, for a future where Jo can really be free, a space where Jo can actually put to words how they feel,” Hinh said when asked what sort of ending she envisions for the characters. “I feel like the word I keep coming back to is free.”
They added that this production of “Little Women,” attempts to honor an understanding of Alcott as a person scholars say likely would have identified as transgender or nonbinary, if the terms existed in the 19th century.
That’s in part expressed through an ethnically and gender-diverse cast.
“We have absolutely cast some really talented artists who not only I think fit those roles —bring out the most beautiful complexities of those roles —but also it’s inclusive,” said Perseverance Theatre’s artistic director Leslie Ishii during a Tuesday night rehearsal break. “I think it opens up our minds about how and who these humans were at this period in time.”
It’s a quality that takes on additional gravity in light of recent local and national events that have singled out transgender or gender-nonconforming people.
Ishii invited the community to join her in paying tribute to the women, non-conforming feminine and trans people in their lives and continuing to learn about and value gender-diversity.
“In this adaptation, Kate Hamill powerfully explores gender roles and gender-diversity, I invite you to join us—and when you see the show, ask yourself, ‘Which character(s) do I identity with?’” Ishii added in a Wednesday morning message. “It might be more than one gender. Is it one or more of the sisters, the matriarch, Marmee, Hannah, and/or the neighbor, Laurie and/or the fathers, grandfathers?”
The adaptation also makes use of more modern language, which helps further establish the relatability of the characters’ concerns, Ishii said.
“I love Kate Hamill’s use of contemporary language because then we can connect to that period of time and the challenges and the struggles going on for women and folks who are gender diverse then and put ourselves in their shoes even more deeply,” Ishii said.
The modern understanding adds new dimension to iconic characters, Hinh said, including oft-derided youngest daughter, Amy March.
“The character of the Amy is just thought of as being a complete brat, but I think Amy is someone who has realized the only way to have ability and power is to lean so hard into femininity is to leverage that for power and stability,” Hinh said.
While the characters may be considered through a more modern lens, the play’s setting remains firmly established in the mid-1800s.
“As much as it is a modern moment, it is very much moving inside of the time period,” Hinh said, and the two-act play’s setting means costumes that evoke the period, including big skirts and what Hinh called probably the best wigs she’s ever seen.
Additionally, the Civil War setting lends itself thematically to “Little Women,” and its characters’ many internal conflicts.
“We’re at war with ourselves in the Civil War,” Ishii said. “So it’s kind of interesting to be at war with yourself literally about who you are and who you can be in society and how you can represent yourself, how you can behave and pursue your own interests and gifts.”
One of the elements of the play Hinh spoke most highly of doesn’t categorize neatly as either hearkening back to the past or a present-day interpretation —the timeless bonds shared among members of the March family.
“I think there’s something really gorgeous about the relationship between Marmee, mom, and all of her children,” Hinh said, adding that she thinks theater can help with intergenerational healing. “I’m excited, and I hope it can help crack things open between a child and their parents or grandparents.”
Know & Go
What: Perseverance Theatre and University of Alaska Anchorage’s Department of Theatre and Dance’s “Little Women”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 7-8, April 13-15 and April 20-22. 4 p.m. April 9, April 16 and April 23. There will be a pay-as-you-can preview at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 6.
Where: Perseverance Theatre, 914 3rd St., Douglas
Admission: Tickets are available online through https://www.ptalaska.org/ticketing/. The April 9 and 13 performances are pay-as-you-can shows.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at email@example.com or (907)308-4895. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.