LITTLE WOMEN (Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion): A sincere and sentimental view of female life in Victorian times

Megan Edelman, Christina Higgins, Molly Edelman, and Allison Kessler in Victorian Theatre’s LITTLE WOMEN at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion (Photo credit: Rowland Hetrick).

Megan Edelman, Christina Higgins, Molly Edelman, and Allison Kessler in Victorian Theatre’s LITTLE WOMEN at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion (Photo credit: Rowland Hetrick).

The ornate and authentically restored 1860s parlor in Germantown’s historic Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion is the perfect setting for its site-specific Victorian Theatre production of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 1868-69 classic, LITTLE WOMEN. Adapted and directed by Josh Hitchens, who founded the Victorian Theatre program in 2010, and serves as its creative director, the sincere and sentimental coming-of-age novel by Alcott (born in Germantown in 1832, before her family relocated to Concord, Massachusetts in 1840) follows the lives of the four March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—over a ten-year period (1863-73), from the hardships of their childhood during the Civil War to their young adulthood in improving post-war times.

As with the book, Hitchens and his cast stress the old-fashioned Victorian values of familial bonds and friendship, and the ideals of love, kindness, generosity, and understanding, in the sweet and poetic style of the charming domestic drama, inspired by the author’s own family. Outspoken tomboy, budding writer, and proto-feminist Jo—Alcott’s alter-ego, portrayed with conviction by the captivating Christina Higgins—serves as narrator, as she directly addresses the audience between nostalgic vignettes that she re-enacts with members of the ensemble.

Along with Higgins, Megan Edelman (as Meg), Molly Edelman (Beth), and Allison Kessler (Amy) define the distinctive personalities of the siblings and capture their love and support of each other through growing pains, childish quibbles, devastating loss, and happy times, within the confines of proper Victorian etiquette and societal strictures for women. Their mother, whom they call Marmee (played by Susan Edelman) provides moral guidance for the girls, and wealthy neighbor Theodore Laurence, called Laurie (the immensely appealing Brian Weiser) develops from a shy boy to a self-assured man, all the while showing his everlasting devotion to the Marches.

Other secondary characters are discussed but not seen in Hitchens’ sympathetic production, allowing the audience to focus on the main protagonists and the “humor and pathos” of their fond and formative remembrances in the up-close and intimate space. Period-style costumes and props further serve to evoke the era, and if that weren’t enough, a champagne reception, included with the ticket price, precedes the performance, and a special exhibit featuring original items from the Mansion’s collection are on display to supplement the show.

[Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, 200 W. Tulpehocken St.] May 6-8, 2016; ebenezermaxwellmansion.org/victorian-theatr.

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About the author

Debra Miller

Debra holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware and teaches at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ. She is a judge for the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice, and has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and President of the Board of Directors of Da Vinci Art Alliance. Her publications include articles, books, and catalogues on Renaissance, Baroque, American, Pre-Columbian, and Contemporary Art, and feature articles on the Philadelphia theater scene.