Playwright: Chiara Atik. At: The Cuckoo's Theater Project at Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 312-882-8201 or TheCuckoosTheaterProject.com; $20. Runs through: Feb. 4
On the surface, the premise for Chiara Atik's world-premiere comedy Women sounds like so many Saturday Night Live sketches that run out of steam. Luckily with Women, that isn't entirely the case.
Women is a condensed 90-minute take on Louisa May Alcott's beloved 1870 novel Little Women. But now the four March sisters behave like they're transplants from Lena Dunham's acclaimed HBO series Girls.
Atik has a keen sense for creating heightened dialogue for the self-absorbed 21st-century sisters who navigate through a 19th-century storyline. Atik also smartly frames Women more around Alcott's better-known novel, so you really don't need much familiarity with Girls to get the laughs.
Surprisingly, Women works well as a post-modern literary stage adaptation. It wryly comments on the ambitions and disappointments of contemporary young women and how 19th century gender roles still linger on today. Atik also emphasizes what made composer Mark Adamo's 1998 operatic adaptation of Little Women work so well by making her comedy about Jo simultaneously wanting to make a name for herself artistically while also longing for an unchanging stability back home.
Director Melissa Golden has found a comically adept and diverse cast to embody Atik's vision for Women. Frequently individual ensemble members expertly deliver select lines to hilarious effect.
Chief among them is Emily Lindberg as the bogged-down-by-motherhood Meg, while Francesca Atian plays up Amy's shallowness around her natural beauty. Jillian Leff also stands out as the sickly Beth, whose coughing fits and expected death are a total drag for her not-so-sympathetic sisters.
Among the supporting characters, Nick Glatter and Joe Lino, as the respective love interests Mr. Brooks and Laurie, find the right satiric balance of being upstanding and oblivious 19th-century men. The bearded Kameron Palmer is also fun in the dual roles of the hipster Clovis and the crotchety neighbor Mr. Laurence.
A stronger self-aware satiric edge would have been welcome in Tehilla Newman's ever-kind Marmee and Rocco Renda's Germanic Professor Bhaer, but especially for Aziza Macklin in the crucial role of the artily ambitious Jo. Macklin's Jo is suitably funnyespecially when questions of her sexuality are played up. But as Women's leading lady, Macklin could have thrown her weight around more to command the stage.
Atik's Women is an enjoyable mash-up that contextualizes a historic novel with heroines you'd find on cable TV. Rather than disrespecting Little Women or Girls, it's all done with tongue-in-cheek admiration.