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‘Little House’ on the boards

Take Note Troupe’s stage play "The Melodies and Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder" captures spirit of beloved author
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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The Melodies and Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Who:
Take Note Troupe
When: 4 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15 and Saturday, Feb.16
Where: State Theater, 985 Lincoln Way, Auburn
Cost: $8 advance, $10 at the door
Info: (916) 652-8888,

www.takenotetroupe.org
 

When LaRee Florence was 12 years old, she took some of the first money she earned from babysitting and bought the boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books.
She can consider it money well spent. Nine years into her role as artistic director for Take Note Troupe, LaRee has written a play based on those very books.
“One of my original questions was ‘What did the music sound like?’” Florence said. “A friend gave me a songbook of music that is referenced in the books; it really is a historical piece.”
Florence has included 24 numbers, songs like “Love’s Old Sweet Song” and “Buffalo Gal,” in her 90-minute play, interspersed between sketches and a lot of direct quotes from the books.
“We reference all of the books,” she said, “but we don’t go chronologically. It’s as if Laura is remembering it.”
There are 21 roles, double cast, so this version of the troop consists of 42 actors and actresses between the ages of 14 and 18. The “orchestra” is home-taught musicians, complete with wash tub bass and washboard.
“They’re up there slapping spoons and blowing in jugs,” Florence said. “But Pa wasn’t a professional musician. As good as they played was as good as it got. It’s really a great depiction of their home-style music.”
Florence’s son Truman, 17, plays Albert, the narrator, who begins the play in street clothes, then transitions into period garb as he breaks the “fourth wall” and engages the audience.
“Albert is interesting because he fades from being a narrator to become a real person in Laura’s memory,” Truman said. “There are three levels of Laura. The older one tells the story, Miss Ingalls when she was courting, and the young girl. They all interact as if they were from the same time.”
McKenzie Little, 18, of Auburn is one of two actresses that play Laura at age 65. She read the “Little House” books with her grandmother when she was 8 years old.
“I love how she treasures words,” Little said. “I am considering becoming an English major, and her love of vocabulary I can relate to.”
Little has seen the television show “here and there” over the years.
“I enjoyed Laura’s spunkiness, seeing her grow up through the show,” she said, “but I kind of related to Mary because she was a little more reserved, similar to me in that way. But playing Laura has helped me branch out and be somebody different on the stage.”
The other actress who takes on the elder Laura is Selina Mayne, 16, of Rocklin. Mayne has not read the books, but said her mother has the whole series and she will definitely read them now.
“After doing this and learning more about her and the whole time period, it makes you want to read about her life and experience it yourself through her books,” Mayne said.
She too has seen enough of the television show to get a feel for the character.
“I really feel like I have a connection with Laura,” Mayne said. “She is very family centered. I am seeing so many things we have in common. We are both inspired by music; we see the importance of work. It helps me with the role, helps me get into character more and makes me feel that I am Laura before I go on stage.”
The production coincides with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday (Feb. 7, 1867) as well as the day she died, at age 90 (Feb. 10, 1957).
“If you don’t know the stories, it is a beautiful snapshot of a bygone era,” Florence said. “Our focus is that she chose to write her history down, so it still lives. We encourage others to write their stories down, to share their stories. Given enough time it will be interesting.”
Her son Truman agrees.
“You never know how much influence your story will have. We can’t imagine what influence our stories might have,” he said.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when she wrote “Little House in the Big Woods,” her first book. Generation after generation of young people can be thankful she did.