This weekend at Kenilworth Studios, Peck School of the Arts put on “Slightly Bigger Women,” an original play by Tina Binns, with Anne Basting showing the classic characters from “Little Women” meeting trends from the 21st century.
Jo (Clasisa Scott), Amy (Katie Seidl), Meg (Corrine Roth), and Beth March (Alyson Robinson) meet again onstage to live out their scripted lives according to the plot of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” When something goes awry, they look back to the book, handled by their humorous mother, Marmee (Youa Thao), to get themselves on track.
The girls and their friend Laurie (Graham Billings) begin discussing their “castles in the air,” what they dream of becoming, which makes them think of their future as women in the 19th century. Some of the girls want to marry, some want to be artists.
The scene shifts to Meg meeting John Brooke (Halstead Kerr) and falling in love with him. She begins getting ready for her “coming out” party with John and can’t find her gloves, a very popular clothing item for women 135 years ago.
While looking for the gloves, the sisters open a trunk, and they hear a voice:
“Gloves are stupid,” it says.
All of the trunks in the room then sprout voices giving words of wisdom about how manners have changed over the last two centuries. The girls then find letters. Lots of them. All from the year 2014 and all about women going to college: wanting to become dancers, doctors, or digital specialists.
They are amazed by what women have accomplished since 1880 and are excited to adapt their “castles in the air” to what they know they’re capable of doing in the future.
In the pivotal moment in the play, Marmee reminds the girls that not everything is peaches and cream in the future. She reads them letters about the hardships of “coming out” in 2014, and that it’s not the same thing as the “coming out” parties they’re used to. Some letters describe difficulties with speaking with conservative parents about their dreams or problems.
The lights then go up around the audience, and the cast discovers that people from the 21st century have been watching them the whole time. The cast then goes around and asks people for more insight into the future and what needs to change about it.
At the end, the characters then reveal their real selves and what their “castles in the air” are for their future and what they want to change about today’s society.
After the play, the audience members were invited to a small gathering outside the theatre, where tables were set up with handouts for places like the LGBT Resource Center and the Women’s Resource Center. The cast members were also in the lobby, willing to discuss the play with the audience further.
The idea for “Slightly Bigger Women” came from the director’s “desire to explore those historic changes in a way that would bring generations together to more deeply understand the past and to envision how they might work toward a better future.”
The play itself came at a great time. Peck’s “Little Women” the musical showed at the beginning of March. It only made sense that the department would even further extend the radical ideas of Louisa May Alcott.
“Slightly Bigger Women” had some slightly bigger ideas attached to it: gender equality, women’s rights, affordable education, and foreign relations. The “SWB Project” collaborated with The Creative Trust, Peck School of the Arts, and UWM Women’s Studies department to bring about both this play, and facilitate workshops with guided discussions about the changing roles of women and men.
A simply designed set with 1800s inspired clothing did a fine job of not overshadowing the story line. If you were an audience member and hadn’t read or been familiar with “Little Women”, it would be difficult to pick up on references throughout the beginning of the play (Beth’s bat with scarlet fever).
The acting was ordinary, with a few shining stand-outs. Clarissa Scott (Jo) never broke character and kept in contact with her surroundings the entirety of the play. The actors were not give microphones, which was no issue for Scott and her boisterous voice. A perfect fit for the outspoken Jo.
Youa Thao (Marmee) did the best with catching humorous ques. Her character was very lovable and not over-done in the slightest.
Technical issues arose with the recorded voices coming from the trunks in the middle of the play. They were very obviously taped, and didn’t have any fading effect, making their appearance shocking and, at times, confusing.
The finest part of “Slightly Bigger Women” was the audience dialogue, signaling the climax of the story.
“What needs to change?” the actors posed.
“Little Women”, itself, was radical for its time. To write a continuation of the story with contemporary issues was a brilliant idea for a play. For a project that didn’t exist nearly two months ago, the plot was incredibly impressive, despite the minor technical issues. All in all, the experience was enjoyable and interactive. Thumbs up.