When Ariel Ibsen was a very little woman, a newborn babe, some assumed she was named for Disney’s then popular “Little Mermaid.” Now she’s 19 and directing Little Women , the play based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel, for Chanticleer Community Theater. Yes, she understands, “I’m young to do this.” But she brings more to the job than being named Ariel for that “airy spirit” in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and sharing Ibsen with a Norwegian playwright. She also shares it with her mother Robin and father, Dwayne, who has been involved in theater all her life and now joins her in directing the play. A former North High drama teacher, he did the early blocking, then stepped back to allow Ariel to direct rehearsals while he runs his costume shop. He’ll return for the first technical run-through, and meanwhile promises his daughter, “Just ask lots of questions and I’ll help you.” Though she starred in the Chanticleer musical, Cinderella , and first appeared on stage in the theater’s Annie at age 7, she’s expected to guide a cast of nine, including such seasoned performers as Denise Putnam, who plays Marmee, mother of the March sisters. “I’m really impressed with her,” Putnam says. “She’s already picking up little nuances that most directors don’t pick up until later.” In an important scene for Jo, the leading “little woman,” Ms. Ibsen urged Jessie St. Clair, playing the tomboy Jo, to argue with Laurie (Brian Williams) “more like a guy would,” Putnam explains. Although dad Dwayne did the early blocking, Ariel “has changed a few things that work better,” she adds. “She sees things from a female perspective,” which Putnam compares to accomplished women directors she’s worked with — Lorie Obradovich, M. Michele Phillips and Roxanne Wach. “Ariel may be finding where she belongs in theater.” At least three plays, plus the musical version performed here recently, were inspired by the classic Alcott novel. The Chanticleer play-reading committee looked at several and left the choice to the Ibsens. Bob Putnam, theater manager and scenic designer for the play, said one script was too much of a comedy and two didn’t advance the story to a climactic event in the novel, the death of sister Beth. “One stopped at the Christmas party,” Dwayne recalls. He chose one by Peter Clapham, first staged in 1960, that he believes best “tells the whole story” including the marriage of Jo. The action takes place in the 1860s with the father played by Glenn Prettyman off to the Civil War. Some of the language seems a bit archaic to the Ibsens. It’s puzzling to hear Marmee tell Jo, after she sells her hair for money, “You cut your hair. Your only beauty.” Given the title, and the need for four young women, auditions drew 30 girls, including one who left when she learned it wasn’t the musical. Jessie St. Clair, as Jo, is an Abraham Lincoln High School junior who came highly recommended by music teacher Lynn Boyd. Morgan Herbener, who played the title role in Annie, is Amy, with Rolena Hatfield and Ashli Pohl as Beth and Meg. Garrett Higginbotham, a veteran of Chanticleer and Omaha Press Club shows, plays the German professor Bhaer, and Terry Benedictis, often cast in character roles, is Aunt March. For Ariel, a part-time student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, one of the more appealing scenes comes when Laurie tells Jo how much he loves her. But she says she’s “excited about all of it. It’s cool that I get to start this young.” She’s glad the Putnams and others have placed their trust in her. And it’s nice to have her dad, as usual, in charge of the costumes, and always nearby to answer questions. Little Women runs Jan. 14-30, Fri.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m. and Sun. 2 p.m., at the Chanticleer Theater, 830 Franklin Ave., in Council Bluffs. Tickets are $17, $14 seniors, $9 children/students. Call 712.323.9955 or visit chanticleertheatre.com.

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