Main Street Theatre Making a Statement with Adaptation of Little Women
Merle Westbrook has been with Tucker’s Main Street Theatre from the very start. She’s worked onstage, behind-the-scenes and as a volunteer. But her latest role will be her most challenging and, perhaps, most rewarding. Westbrook is directing a modern adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women, with six shows being staged at Tucker Recreation Center from July 19-28.
Westbrook and the actresses portraying the March sisters sat down with InTucker to give the scoop on sibling rivalry, burning manuscripts and why this play is unlike anything Tucker has ever seen before.
For several years now, Main Street Theatre has sought ways to engage their audiences in new and innovative ways. After starting with two main stage shows per year, they have put on murder mystery plays, musicals and even an interactive street show. Little Women, however, will be their first-ever main stage show to take place in the summertime.
“One of the things that Main Street Theatre likes to focus on is giving newcomers without any experience an opportunity to get up there on that stage,” Westbrook says. That includes young actors who are too busy with school to audition for plays in the spring or fall.
Three of the March sisters in this production of Little Women are still school age, as is Keegan McDaniel, the actor cast to play the male lead role of Laurie. Katie Mogilski, who plays the role of Beth, is making her Main Street Theatre debut. The rising junior at Chamblee High School says she’s not intimidated being the second-youngest member of the cast.
“I feel really comfortable around these people. They’re my sisters!”
When Westbrook set out to cast the sisters in Little Women, she wasn’t looking for actresses who looked exactly like what was described in the book. She wasn’t even looking for actresses who looked like they could be sisters in real life. She made it known from the start that women of all ages, races and abilities were welcome to audition.
Because of that, Erin Eben came out to audition. Eben, a junior at Emory University and African-American, won the role of strong-willed writer Jo March.
“We don’t point out that I’m the black one in the family,” Eben says as she and her castmates share a laugh.
Indeed, the physical difference between the actresses is noticeable, but that’s exactly how they want it.
“It kind of shows that in modern times a family can look like anything,” Mogilski explains.
Written a century-and-a-half ago, Little Women is one of the most beloved novels of the 19th century and it’s still relevant today. Alcott’s classic is taught in high schools across the country. Hollywood is good for a new movie adaptation every few years. Yet, this particular set of March sisters came to the Main Street Theatre production of Little Women without much prior knowledge.
“I tried to read it once I knew I got the part,” Eben recalls with a smile. “The beginning (of the book) was wonderful.”
Eben’s not alone. Mogilski and Mia Trocchi, who plays Amy, say they’ve never read Little Women either.
“I have the book,” Trocchi, a rising sophomore at Greater Atlanta Christian, admits. “I plan on reading it.”
The lone exception is Carly Sharec, who plays the role of Meg. Sharec says her affection for Little Women is what drew her to audition in the first place.
“I’m obsessed. My parents took me to see the movie in the theater and I’ve loved it ever since,” Sharec says. “I read the book multiple times. I’ve read Little Men multiple times. I’m a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott period.”
Westbrook, the director, says it’s no secret how she feels about Little Women. The book so impacted her life, she named her daughter after the character Meg.
As the actresses have gotten to know the March sisters, they’ve identified some similarities, but realized a lot of differences between themselves and their characters. That’s forced them to do some serious acting.
“[Amy]’s the youngest and I’m the youngest in my family. So, on some level I can relate to her,” Trocchi shares. “But I would never get pushed far enough to do some of the things that Amy would do. How angry would you have to be to burn Jo’s manuscript? That would be like a different part of me that I would have to draw from.”
“My character Beth is very timid,” Mogilski adds. “She has a lot of inner thoughts, but she only expresses some of them out loud. She kind of has her sisters speak for her. I think that’s one thing I’m not like in person. It’s something I have to work on day-to-day and rehearsal-to-rehearsal.”
In portraying Meg, Sharec says the biggest obstacle for her was clear from the outset: age.
“Being in my 30’s and playing an 18-year-old, it’s a challenge.”
Moral of the Story
The women behind Little Women want to make it clear that this is not just a show to entertain audiences; they’re going to leave the theater having learned a lesson.
“The stories that the sisters are facing are stories that anyone could face at any time,” Sharec says. “These are timeless experiences and struggles that everyone goes through.”
“They’re going to be surprised at how much they can relate to it,” Trocchi agrees.
Westbrook says that when she signed on to direct the play, she saw an opportunity to connect with things happening in society today.
“With the entire #MeToo movement, Lean In and so on, we felt like these were stories that people wanted to hear and needed to hear [and] that it was a message to be tapped,” Westbrook explains. “We’re just a community theater in Tucker, but at the same time, as the Artistic Director, I take serious responsibility for trying to bring a different perspective and a new point of view to the conversation on important, timely topics that are in the news or in the headlines and things that affect our relationships with each other and that impact our community of Tucker.”
Tickets for ‘Little Women’ are on sale now at tuckertheatre.com. Performances will be Friday July 19 and Saturday July 20 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday July 21 at 2:30 p.m., Friday July 26 and Saturday July 27 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday July 28 at 2:30 p.m.