Flock Theatre stages its own adaptation of 'Little Women'
Local theater is often a do-it-yourself proposition; groups often pull together their own costumes and build their own sets. What's less common, though, is for them to take on the task of turning a novel into a play.
Flock Theatre's "Little Women" is, in fact, a fresh Flock Theatre script. Julie Rattey, a Flock regular, managed to rework the Louisa May Alcott classic into a 76-page stage script.
Here's how it began: Director Derron Wood and Rattey had been discussing staging "Little Women" for a while.
"It's such a wonderful story, something we we felt audiences would really enjoy," Rattey says. "It's something we felt would be perfect for the Shaw Mansion in terms of the intimacy of the space and the intimacy of the story. It's also a good fit for the people we have, acting-wise."
Wood read a number of script versions, but he wasn't particularly happy with any of them. So developed the idea of Flock doing its own script, which Rattey says was "rather ambitious but also exciting."
A few of the Flock faithful worked through the novel by compiling the dialogue parts into script form. Rattey then voluteered to take it to the next level, as it were, by figuring how the book could best work onstage. She spent over a month last summer toiling on the project after work and on weekends.
"It was a challenge, and it was a lot of fun," Rattey says.
Worthy of note: Rattey is a managing editor by trade, at Catholic Digest magazine in New London.
"It does help that I'm an editor in my day job, so I'm used to spending a lot of time trimming and cutting," she says.
It didn't hurt, either, that Rattey was quite familiar with the story. She had read the book a couple of times when she was a girl. Rattey, now 30, had played Beth in an adaptation when she was about 16. And the 1994 big-screen version is one of her favorite films.
She felt that a lot of the book adapted quite well to a play.
She had to make sure, though, that this adaptation could work well in a small space. Flock is staging "Little Women" in the historic Shaw Mansion in New London.
The long parlor, where Flock has also staged such classics as "Pride and Prejudice" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," only has room for an audience of about 30 people.
(Flock first performed a show at the Shaw Mansion in 2008, when the boiler at its regular winter venue, the First Congregational Church of New London, went on the fritz.)
Some things had to go - the skating scene where Amy falls through the ice obviously being one.
Scenes had to be cut, too, just in the process of condensing a novel ("Little Women" runs 600-plus pages in some editions) into a stage work. One chapter is devoted to Amy's having friends over - a visit that turns into disaster - but it was jettisoned in the play version because it's not essential for story purposes.
"A lot (of the work) was trying to focus in on what most integral to plot and character development," she says.
She also tinkered with the romance between Jo and Professor Bhaer, the German professor she meets in New York.
"Alcott is true to her characters in that she doesn't make Jo and Bhaer's relationship a stereotypical romance. Jo isn't a swoony belle, and Bhaer is a poor professor, not dashing or rich. They're friends first, and Bhaer is also a mentor figure to her, in a way," Rattey says.
"But the audience still has to buy that they fall in love, so one of the challenges of working on the script was to make the romance come across while staying true to the characters. You also have to be careful that Bhaer, who is older and wiser than Jo, doesn't come across as too paternal or condescending.
"In one film version of Little Women, for instance, the writer had Bhaer refer to Jo as 'my little friend,' which I found jarring as a modern viewer. So I steered clear of interpretations like that."
Not only did Rattey handle the script, but she's acting in the production as well; Wood cast her as Jo.
"It's very meaningful for me because not only is it a part I enjoy but she's the writer of the group," Rattey says.
She says that playing Jo, who ages from 15 to 24, "is great fun. She's a wonderful character. She's very playful and buoyant and full of energy and ideas. It's a lot of fun to let go and just run wild with her - as much as that's possible in the Shaw, without knocking over audiences." She laughs.
Wood and Rattey both point out that "Little Women" is a rarity for the time - a coming-of-age story about young women in a way that isn't focused on getting married and having children.
Rattey says that "Little Women" deals with "family and love and discovering your true self and what's important in life. (What's important in life) is not about society or money or success. It's about goodness and caring for other people and family and all of those wonderful, heartwarming themes."
As for the audiences, Rattey says, "I hope that people will come away very happy and very touched. The messages and the heart of the story that touches so many people in the book, I hope, will have the same effect for people when they come to see the play."
WHAT: Flock Theatre's "Little Women"
WHERE: Shaw Mansion, 11 Blinman St., New London
WHEN: Opens tonight and runs through Jan. 30; shows at 7 p.m. Tues.-Sun., with 2 p.m. matinees Sat. and Sun.; previews are tonight-Thurs.
TICKETS: For previews and Jan. 25, $25 ($20 students and seniors); for Fridays through Sundays, $35 ($30 students and seniors); dinner theater productions on Jan. 26 and 27 are $75
CALL: (860) 443-3119, flocktheatre.org