BCP goes big with ‘Little Women’

By John Lyle Belden

Most of us, either by choice or school assignment, have read Louisa May Alcott’s 19th century novel “Little Women,” based on the lives of Alcott and her sisters. The book has also had several film adaptations, television airings, and – for our purposes here – inspired a 2005 Broadway musical with book by Allan Knee, music by Jason Howland, and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. Thus adapted, the story is both familiar and new, and on stage at Buck Creek Players, directed by Cathy Cutshall, through this weekend.

The author is reimagined as Jo March, aspiring world-famous writer. Miranda Nehrig, who offstage is the answer to “what if Jo had become a lawyer,” boldly takes on the role with great presence, acting, and vocals. The show gives this central role a lot, and Nehrig shoulders it like a pro.

Alcott gave her literary siblings distinct, diverse personalities, to which our cast give full dimension: Jennifer Kaufmann smartly gives us Meg, the nurturing natural governess with sufficient charm to catch the eye of Mr. Brooks (Matthew Blandford), tutor to the boy next door, Laurie (Austin Stodghill). Jacoba White is sweet as shy Beth, happiest when alone at the piano, and capable of softening the heart of stern neighbor Mr. Lawrence (Brian Noffke). Hannah Partridge successfully accepts the challenge of making beautiful but bratty sister Amy likable, even as she matures into a social butterfly under ultra-prim-and-proper Aunt March (Jessica Bartley).

The ”little women” thrive under the care of mother Marmee March, with Heather Catlow ably portraying the bond that holds this family together with unending affection.

As for the men: Stodghill shines as the boy who becomes an honorary “brother,” yet finds himself yearning to be more. Blandford keeps Brooks appropriately upbeat. Veteran actor Noffke makes his turn look effortless. And Ben Jones is rock solid as Jo’s mentor, Professor Bhaer, even when the edges crumble as he considers his true feelings.

A fan of adventure tales and melodrama, Jo works on a story of derring-do that she hopes to sell. Its action comes alive with the help of Nathaniel Bouman as dashing Rodrigo. Other ensemble players are Kirsten Cutshall, Brandon Ping and Connie Salvini Thompson.

The plot hits the high points of the novel – comic and tragic, romantic and triumphant – so this show is a treat both for those familiar with it, or who only now discover this American classic.

Performances run through June 19 at the Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74). Get information and tickets at buckcreekplayers.com.

‘Good’ show at BCP

By John Lyle Belden

Hard times can make hard people, but also “Good People,” in the hit 2011 Broadway play by David Lindsay-Abaire, now on stage at Buck Creek Players.

Margie (Molly Bellner) is a lifelong resident of Southie, a Boston working-class neighborhood — the kind of hardscrabble place one grows up planning to escape. For years, she struggled since dropping out of high school to take care of her baby, now a mentally disabled adult. Care for the unseen Joyce has made her late for work one too many times, and she is searching for a job again. Her friend Jean (Francie Mitchaner) and landlady Dotti (Susan Hill) suggest Margie look up her past boyfriend Mike (Jeremy Tuterow), a successful doctor, to see if he can help. Her visit to his office quickly becomes awkward, yet results in her getting an invitation to his birthday party at his nice home.

Later at the Bingo Hall (with Brian Noffke as the voice of the Priest calling the numbers), Margie meets Jean, Dotti, and her former Dollar Store supervisor, Stevie (Josh Rooks). She tells them about the party, and her hopes of hitting up someone there for a job. Jean notes that if she tells Mike that Joyce wasn’t born prematurely, making him the father, Margie could leverage that to get his help. But then Mike calls, saying the party has been cancelled – Margie doesn’t believe him, and goes anyway.

This play is best described as a rather dark comedy, wringing a good amount of humor from sad and uncomfortable situations. The struggles aren’t just with employment, as the Act II “party” with Mike and his wife Kate (Alicia Sims), a beautiful African-American woman, becomes reminiscent of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Bellner gives a brilliant performance, as a person for whom (“pardon my French,” she’d say) “busting your balls” is her love language. Her environment has brought her up so that being passive-aggressive, pushy and manipulative became necessary for survival. But it still comes across that Margie means well, that deep down she strives to be good, or at least “Good People” by Southie standards.

Mitchaner and Hill show in their characters that Margie isn’t unique, Jean and Dotti have only grown older and more cynical. But at least Dotti has her side-hustle, selling handmade (with Joyce’s help) wooden rabbits. Rooks sweetly plays the boy who never got out of Southie, but is making the best of it. Tuterow gives us the boy who did, but resents its shadow, while nursing a darkness that innocent Kate already suspects.

It’s interesting that to these folks, a Bingo jackpot is their “lottery dream.” Note the audience gets a chance to play, too, as Father Noffke calls a game during Intermission, complete with a prize.

With direction and excellent set design by Jim LaMonte, “Good People” has one more weekend, through Sunday, Feb. 13, at Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road Exit off I-74), Indianapolis. For info and tickets, visit buckcreekplayers.com.