With vivid, high-quality ‘Little Women,’ ASU takes a step into a new era of theater
by Owen Woods | firstname.lastname@example.org
“LITTLE Women” always comes around when you most need it and least expect it. It’s a piece of art that requires heart and soul to make, so that those who view it can leave with a warmth to brave the cold outside. It’s a story that makes you laugh and cry, but it’s a story that has no villain, no hatred, nor moment to spare. Its characters are full and unique; they are as human as you or I.
The American Civil War made cold times for many fatherless families. The March family are expert entertainers. Each one of them. As long as wars have been fought, people have relied on storytelling as medicine. During a time without antibiotics, laughter really is the best medicine.
Adam State’s theater crew and department pulled out the stops for this production. In every fashion – including the fashion. The dresses and suits, vests, bonnets, shoes, and gloves all look period-accurate and high quality. A special thanks is given to the Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center, where they often hold reenactments in period-accurate clothing, so it’s no wonder the costumes are so great. The March sisters’ dresses look like pieces straight from a museum or film.
A two-story March household commands the stage, with a genuine to-the-era architecture and design. The stairs leading to the attic creak and whine as if they’ve been sitting there since 1868. The piano is aged and antique. The set is simply a frame into the past.
The sound and lighting are stepped up for this show. Little Women’s use of quick, cinematic lighting and sound highlight a real effort to put on a good show, and boy do they. ASU’s “Little Women” production feels like a step into a new era of theater for not only the university, but for the Valley. The house was packed on opening night.
This performance should be highlighted on each of its actors’ resumes. From Jamie Bulzomi’s Jo to Carson Leaf’s Parrot and Maria Perez’s Mrs. Mingott, every performance was at its best. The chemistry of every person on stage is the careful result of such a tightly-woven theater program. The March sisters give the convincing portrayal of family that you might find in Chicago improv troupes. Young actors like these are the future of the artform.
The off-stage friendships and interactions are unmistakable in their performances. The joy on the actors’ faces is far from hidden. The cast pulls no punches with its gags. They do not hold back their arguments and emotions. The chemistry is palpable and dare I say, raw. But that torn-down wall, revealing the actors’ unfeigned delight, gives off a sweet contact high.
Just like Stephanie Cotter’s win in Seattle, ASU and the community should look at “Little Women” opening night with the same pride.
The March family dynamic is on full display. The sisters, of course, take center stage, but the side characters and minor roles all roil and meld to create a tightly-woven character study.
Before you talk about the little women, you need to talk about Marmee. I hope to not see Taylor Anaya-Estrada typecast as the mother-figure in every role, but this version of Marmee could not have been played by anyone else. Anaya-Estrada’s ability to portray sterling tenderness and joy is more than just captivating. Capturing Marmee’s warmth and love for her daughters is no easy feat, but Anaya-Estrada seems to just fit into the role.
Joaquin Rodriguez gives the audience a nuanced and vulnerable look into the character of Theodore “Lauri” Laurence. He plays shy and awkward well. Lauri’s infatuation with Jo is complex, but heartfelt – emotions that are very present in Rodriguez’s performance. He is part of the March family. His role carries the same weight as everyone else. Just like his peers, Rodriguez overcomes the challenge and history of the role to give the audience something new.
Livv Huffmaster’s appearances are propelling her forward in the theater world. Her Amy is a well-rounded, funny, but deeply human interpretation. She plays the hurt and the bratty little sister well, but her knack for timing and line delivery adds a needed piece to the production. Her ability to change personalities half-way through shows a real talent. The stark difference in the younger and older Amy isn’t just a switch in tone of voice and dialogue. It’s an actor who has committed to the motivation of the character in subtle ways. Huffmaster shows in “Little Women” that she has no problem delivering subtext.
Caitie Adams plays with the fear of adulthood and motherhood with a deeply emotional grace. Meg is the big sister, but she enjoys being a little sister, too, whenever she can. Taking part in Jo’s theatricals means you have to deal with Jo’s notes. Adams is able to portray being annoyed but still having a good time with your siblings with masterful poise. Adams and Bulzomi feel like sisters and that energy is exciting because it’s believable. All the sisters feel that way, but the relationship between the eldest sisters is incomparable.
River Schesser’s performance as Beth is as good as it gets. The soft-spoken March sister often sits in the attic alone or in the back of the room, but she is never forgotten, always included. Beth carries a different form of performative weight than Jo does. Still just as heavy, but different. It’s a different emotional outcome; Schesser leans into the hope of the character. There is little pessimism to be had.
Bulzomi presents a quintessential Jo March. Her Jo is loud and brash, funny and quick, physical and very aware of her stage presence. The excitement and fear Jo feels through the years are present on Bulzomi’s sleeve and face and every word of dialogue she speaks. She is a powerhouse as Jo March. The role of Jo carries the weight of 110 years of performative history, but Bulzomi bears it in stride. Each interpretation by an actor is neither worse nor better than the last, but simply the newest version. Comparing one Jo to another is unjust – and not the point. However, Bulzomi’s Jo is so tuned and dialed-in, developed, and ardent it’s hard not to be totally in awe of the performance.
If Adams State continues to put on shows like this one, it will lead to a revolution, one hopes, of theater in the San Luis Valley. Leaving a performance with a weight lifted from your shoulders is exactly why theater exists. “Little Women” will give you peace of mind and maybe get you into the holiday spirit. Remember, “You are whatever you’re supposed to be.”
“Little Women,” adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott, written by Kate Hamill and directed by Professor Jenna Neilsen is presented by Adams State University Theatre, with the School of Visual and Performing Arts. Photo courtesy Adams State.