"Little Women," Louisa May Alcott's 1860s novel about four sisters growing up in the March family in Concord, Mass., was a refreshing escape from the Civil War going on at the time. The book holds a prominent place in Americana and has been adapted into plays, a TV miniseries and several films. The world premiere adaptation of the play, with music from playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger, debuts at the North Coast Repertory Theatre this weekend.
Goldfinger said she gained a love for the novel at a young age while listening to her grandmother read the story. The playwright is the first to admit that turning a 400-page novel into a play for an intimate theater stage was an arduous task.
"I had to definitely shorten it," she said. "So I tried to pick the story elements that would most resonate with people today. But there was still too much story. So (NCR) Artistic Director David Ellenstein and I focused on what would be a compelling drama and visually interesting for the stage."
Though the story was written more than 100 years ago, Goldfinger maintains that "Little Women" is ageless. "It is a beautiful coming-of-age story, but it's also about communities trying to figure out who they were," she said. "It takes place in the middle of the Civil War during the rise of the middle class, and at a time when women were starting to go into the work place. I think it's very relevant to where we are today."
Goldfinger, who also adapted NCR's "A Christmas Carol," worked with Ellenstein to choose a director. Kirsten Brandt makes her NCR directing debut on "Little Women" but has an impressive resume, including stints at the San Jose Rep, TheatreWorks, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, The Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego REP, Diversionary and Sledgehammer. Goldfinger, Ellenstein and Brandt collaborated on choosing a cast.
"We're thrilled with this cast," Goldfinger said. "We wanted to appeal to a broad audience, and wanted the story to focus on universal ideas so everyone can plug into the story at some point.
"Marmee (Linda Libby) is a woman dealing with issues every parent has to deal with in terms of raising children. The girls (Amy-Maddie Baldwin), (Beth-Brooke Byler), (Jo-Caroline Kinsolving) and (Meg-Aaryn Kopp) are growing up and coming of age. John (Brian Mackey) is trying to find himself. He's stuck in a tutor position, but wants to be more and doesn't know how to get there. Laurie (Tim Parker), who lost both of his parents, is a new guy in town and trying to find someone to connect with. So there's so much in this play people can identify with in their own lives."
After working through her adaptation for almost two years, going through a summer workshop with the play, and constantly revising it after that, Goldfinger said she's anxious to watch the previews.
"You learn so much from an audience, where to take out or add a line, or maybe insert a joke. So it may be slightly tweaked a bit more," she said.
Another element Goldfinger focused on was increasing the men's roles so that dads, nephews and grandfathers wouldn't mind coming to the show. "It is a story of today and yesterday and tomorrow that audiences will hopefully enjoy and also maybe discuss with family members on the way home," she said.
- Performances: 8 p.m. Feb. 18-20; 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 21; 8 p.m. Feb. 25-27; 2 p.m. Feb. 27; 2 and 7 p.m. Feb. 28; other times through March 14
- Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987
Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
- Tickets: $30-$47; (858) 481-1055, www.northcoastrep.org