Not so ‘Little’ women

Bill Thomas, Arts & Entertainment Editor

A few hundred years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find any women involved in theater. In the Elizabethan Era, for instance, male actors would throw on a wig and skirt to play female roles themselves, rather than allow a woman to ever step foot onstage.

Centuries later, the polarity seems reversed. Naomi Baker, a Wilkes University assistant professor of performing arts, said that, these days, there are more females in the theater scene than males.

Baker, who was recently honored at the 44th Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in January, admitted that she herself is unsure of just when and why the gender tables so dramatically turned. Nevertheless, the fact that there are more females than males in the school’s theater department is a big reason why “Little Women: The Musical” was chosen as the Wilkes’ first big production of 2012.

It’s not the only reason, though.

“I have a particular leaning toward stories about women because I believe that for far too long the stories of women have been relegated to the ‘less important stack,’” Baker, the play’s director, explained. “The (theatrical) canon has basically been dictated by men, and consequently there are more plays by men about men than there are about women. I see it as part of my job to balance that out as much as I can. It’s very important to me, as a woman, to get women’s stories out there.”

Based on the novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, “Little Women” – which will run for the next two weekends, on Feb 17, 18 and 19 and Feb. 24, 25 and 26, in the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center – is a coming-of-age story set in Civil War-era Massachusetts. The play’s protagonist, Jo, is a strident tough-gal with aspirations of being a writer. The only thing she cherishes more than her love affair with the written word is her bond with her three sisters.

Playing Jo this outing is junior musical theater major Cierra Cellerari of Pittston.  Passionate about the performing arts since being enrolled in dance classes at the age of three, Cellerari said this is one character she relates to wholeheartedly.

“Jo is a strong character. She wants what she wants, and what she wants is to follow her dreams and support her family,” Cellerari said. “Of course, I want to fulfill my dreams of being an actress, and I want to help my family though doing that.”

It’s that kind of reach-for-the-stars feminist attitude, Baker said, that makes “Little Women” such a perfect choice for her. Regardless, Baker is quick to clarify her feeling that just because “Little Women” has a uniquely female perspective, that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t also possess universal appeal.

“I’m always looking for shows about women, but I don’t want them to be shows that only women like,” she remarked, sharing her belief that this play is capable of engaging audience members both male and female, young and old. It’s a sentiment echoed by Cellerari.

“The whole aspect of family and fulfilling your dreams, it’s something everyone in the world cares about,” Cellerari said. “Everyone has felt the way these characters feel. Everyone can relate.”

Performances of “Little Women: The Musical” will be held at the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center on Feb. 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 19 and 26, at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $15 general admission and $5 for non-Wilkes students and senior citizens. Wilkes students, faculty, and staff receive free admission with a valid Wilkes ID. For more information, call 1-800-WILKES-U, ext. 4420 or click here.