More Louisa May than Lena, the affectionate send-up Women recasts Alcott’s Civil War–era novel of feminine blossoming (as told by Gillian Armstrong's unapologetically saccharine '90s film version, starring Winona Ryder) in the self-conscious, rapid-fire but impeccably articulated chatter of HBO’s Girls. Written by Chiara Atik and directed by Stephanie Ward, this expertly timed, tirelessly paced remount of the Hollywood Fringe favorite leaps from joke to joke, wickedly reimagining the March girls as a millennial quartet fumbling their way into adulthood.
When viewed through the lens of Lena Dunham’s privileged heroines, Alcott’s earnest tale of sisterly solidarity and creative self-discovery takes on a decidedly more narcissistic tinge. Some assembly is required — many jokes require a more than passing familiarity with Beth’s troubled health, Jo’s writerly ambitions and Marmee’s flights of maternal wisdom — though it seems a season and a half of Girls viewing may also suffice. The parallels are delicious.
To wit: Amy (Jacquie Walters), a germ-phobic Brit with lackadaisical artistic pretensions, makes a perfect analogue to Girls’ drawling, bohemian Jessa. (One of my favorite moments: Amy’s refusal, during a household cost-cutting session, to cede the outrageous sum she spends on wartime citrus for her art installations.) The cheery demeanor of Beth (Brigitte Valdez) in the face of a portentous tubercular cough, traded here for the movie’s less stage-friendly heart trouble, suits the virginal Shoshanna.
Amid a strong ensemble, Lost Moon Radio veteran Lauren Flans is brilliant as the aggressively self-absorbed voice of her generation, and Erika Rankin delivers deadpan understatement as the gratingly traditionalist Meg and even more disliked Marmie. In one terrifically fun scene, the whole gang gets down to a 19th-century masked ball transformed into a Lower East Side club.
Beyond its sharp eye for the vagaries of female storytelling and the self-indulgent streaks of the storytellers, the material may be relatively slight, but at just under an hour it delivers what it promises. Unlike Jo, it knows not to go on and on.
Beth Dies Inc. & Combined Artform at Theatre Asylum, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hlywd.; through Oct. 25. www.womentheshow.com.
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