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LITTLE WOMEN Dale Jones directs Kristen Laurence’s cozy Cliffs Notes adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s mandatory classic for girls that’s so good-natured it decides to end before one character’s tragic death. Laurence tidily divides Alcott’s sprawling story of the hardships four sisters face during the Civil War into three acts and five Very Big Days — during the course of any given afternoon, placid Meg (Megan Harvey), fiery Jo (Danielle Keaton), milquetoast Beth (Devri Richmond) and fussbudget Amy (Hayley Jackson) joke, bicker, sabotage each other, nearly die, make up, learn that someone else is near death, have their lives upended, find solace in sisterhood, and sing. The production is competent enough but has the inertia of irrelevance; there’s little to take away from it but the feeling of having drunk a glass of warm milk. Occasionally, Jones invites us to giggle at their antiquated innocence — the largest laugh comes when Meg confesses she flirted at a dance — but the general tone is constrained by naiveté. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Jan. 17. (562) 494-1014. (Amy Nicholson)
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GO THE RAINMAKER N. Richard Nash’s comedy is, in many respects, conventional Broadway fare of the 1950s, written with love for its characters, who care about each other deeply, even when they’re not good at expressing it. It’s also a richly funny play, being a comedy of character rather than one driven by wisecracks. Phyllis Gitlin’s staging offers no virtuoso performances, but her tightly knit ensemble brings the piece to throbbing life. Loren McJannet-Taylor makes a poignant figure of the spinster Lizzie, who feels that life has passed her by because she’s plain and has never been able to attract a man. She achieves a bit of theater magic by becoming beautiful in the moment that the con-man rainmaker, Starbuck (Kevin Deegan), tells her she is. Mitchell Nunn ably captures the helpless frustration of her father, determined to make his daughter happy even if he doesn’t quite know how. Paul Breazeale is all boyish charm as the kid brother, Jimmy, who, like Lizzie, is dominated by their puritanical controlling brother Noah (Sean Gray). Cort Huckabone overplays his “Aw, shucks!” shyness as the lovesick sheriff’s deputy File, and Deegan works a bit too hard to demonstrate Starbuck’s charm, but in the end they serve the play admirably. Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru Feb. 7. (562) 494-1014 or www.lbph.com. (Neal Weaver)