First Folio Theatre, 1717 West 31st Street in Oak Brook, Illinois presents the WORLD PREMIERE of Little Women from December 17 through January 15, 2023. This play is a readaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age story featuring the four March sisters. Multi-talented, Heather Chrisler, a phenomenal actor, playwright, and associate artistic director with three Jeff Award Nominations, along with accolades from critic Chris Jones, and an MLC 2018 Best Actress Award has recreated the tale of Louisa Alcott’s March sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy.
Despite the artistic period costumes designed by Chicago-based Uriel Gómez, these beloved iconic novel’s characters still speak to a contemporary audience. Scenic designer Angela Weber Miller‘s set captures both the time period expressively while drawing us into the world of Little Women. Chrisler’s readaptation of Little Women began as a workshop project in 2019 at the First Folio Theatre. After a trip to Orchard House “The Home of Little Women” in Concord, Massachusetts Executive Director David Rice was inspired to finally produce his and Alison’s dream passion, a stage play of Little Women. Although a playwright himself, he realized the importance of needing a women’s voice to share the relationship of the March sisters on stage. Chrisler was enlisted by Rice to create a stage production of Little Women. Her script was inspirational and blew David Rice away. He related that it clearly captured the core essence of the March family. It is an homage and a lovely legacy to his wife, partner, and co-founder’s memory. Due to the pandemic, its world premiere was delayed until 2022. You now have the great fortune to delight in Chrisler’s brilliant production. Artistic associate, Melanie Keller’s, capable direction ensures future productions. I expect this drama will become a staple of theater companies and a sensation across the nation.
Esther Fishbein, Jamie Herb, Shelby Lynn Bias, and Stephanie Fongheiser play all the characters of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, Professor Bhaer, John Brooke, and the next-door grandson Laurie. They create an exceptional theatrical, life-enhancing, mesmerizing experience through play, letters, and acting-out dramas written by Jo. The sisters relate the stories of their loves, losses, individual triumphs, tribulations, and tragedies using objects (dancing ribbons, purple hankies, and balloons) stored in their attic home.
Jo (Josephine) the second sister, is ably portrayed by Shelby Lynn Bias a force on stage. She is the protagonist based on Louisa Alcott’s own life and desire to become a writer. Jo has an incisive wit and a fierce independent feminist streak although very protective of her loving family. Meg March, (Stephanie Fongheiser) who also is Professor Bhaer. She has a childish strong desire for wealth and luxury but ends up marrying John Brooke for love and the riches of family, not money. Her portrayal of Profesor Bhaer with his heavy accent is difficult to decipher. Beth March, (Jamie Herb) the third daughter is quiet, virtuous, and a lover of arts and music. Herb transitions from Beth to Laurie effortlessly. Amy March,(Esther Fishbein) the youngest also has the heart of an artist but is vain and tempestuous. She also plays the part of Brooke. The sisters befriend the boy-next-door, Laurie, (Jamie Herb) treating him as both a friend and brother. The March sisters are being raised in genteel poverty in Massachusetts by their mother, Marmee, a model of morality, while their father is serving as a chaplain in the Union Army. These two characters are discussed yet never seen on stage.
As always, I suggest you arrive early enough to take a tour of Mayslake Peabody Estate’s interior architecture and art displays. This Tudor mansion is a treasure trove rich with Chicago history. In 1993, the Dupage Forest Preserve purchased the 87 acres including Mayslake Hall, Portiuncula Chapel, surrounding lakes, and an oak savanna making it accessible to the general public. Francis Stuyvesant Peabody, a national leader in the Democratic Political Party and captain in the coal industry commissioned famed Chicago architect, Benjamin Marshall, to build this magnificent summer retreat in 1919. It was named after his first wife and daughter, Mayslake Peabody Estate. Unfortunately, a year after its completion in 1921 Peabody died of a heart attack during a fox hunt on the property. The 840-acre property was later sold to the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart order of Friars Minor in 1926.
Unlimited Free parking is available for this intimate 127-seat theater. The running for Little Women time is ninety-five minutes with no intermission. Captioned Performances for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired are Friday 12/30 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday 1/7 at 4:00 p.m. Proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 (2 shots of Moderna/Pfizer/Novavax or 1 shot of J&J) is required to attend any performance. There will be no exceptions allowed to this policy. Single Ticket prices are Friday-Sunday Adults $59.00, Seniors $54.00 Students (All performances $20.00 and Previews are $29.00). Wednesday-Thursday Adults $49.00, Seniors $44.00. Season subscriptions and individual tickets are on sale now and may be purchased by calling the box office at 630.986.8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org.
Unfortunately, 2023 is First Folio’s closing season. You still have an opportunity to catch Little Women, And Neither Have I Wings to Fly, and Twelfth Night. First Folio Theatre’s preeminence (40 Jeff Nominations and 7 Jeff Awards, 14 World Premiers) in production and performance thanks to the Actors Equity Union, community support, and Executive Director and Co-founder David Rice’s work par excellence. First Folio Theatre will be sorely missed.
Photos: Courtesy of David Rice and Heron Agency
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