Virginia Glasgow Koste wrote this theatrical adaptation of a book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, whose other works from the turn of the last century are Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden. A Little Princess employs some of the same archetypes, such as disengaged or deceased parents and mean substitute adults. Sara has been sent from her native India to a provincial school in England. Her father (Michael Linsley Rapport) has left firm instructions that she be treated like gold, which includes the hiring of a French maid. Sara is, predictably, the brunt of the other young ladies' and Minchin's wrath; they seem to collectively say, "Just who does she think she is?"
To salve her wounds (she's not, after all, a stoic), Sara creates marvelous stories from thin air that win her two converts: the chubby and charmingly dim Ermingarde (Anna Brungardt) and the pretty but grimy scullery maid, Becky (Katie Shepard). Sara earns the title of "princess" both from her foes and her new friends, who buy into her belief that you can be a princess if you wish it so. But as British tales about young ladies are wont to do, the reverie is destined to burst.
Word arrives that Mr. Crewe has died, marking the end of Sara's reign as faux royalty. He has apparently died penniless, so to the attic with the other maids goes Sara. For a time Sara is despondent, but her quick-wittedness brings light to her gloomy quarters. She and Becky concoct a code of communication by rapping on the walls: Knock-knock-knock means all is well. And Ermingarde, who is mercilessly teased for her weight, remains an ally of Sara and Becky, bringing them food she has somehow managed to avoid eating.
Lighting designer Art Kent casts a shadowy pallor upon the attic and then adds shimmering hues of red and pink to a scene in which the area is transformed by pillows and coverlets into an oasis. That work comes at the hand of Ram Dass (Ivan McClellan), a young man from India who works at the house of new neighbors across the way -- he has adopted Sara as a charity case and redecorates her dingy room while she sleeps. Not surprisingly, he is connected to a solicitor who is himself connected to good news for Sara. When Miss Minchin gets her comeuppance, even the youngest member of the Coterie audience claps with glee.
Making remarkable Coterie debuts as the younger girls are the college and high school students Barksdale, Brungardt, Horner and Shepard. Friesen is also new to the Coterie and could stand to be meaner still; her Miss Minchin is awful as is but could use some variation of tone. McClellan and Rapport stamp distinction on both of their characters. And all of them are soundly directed by Jeff Church, fittingly costumed by Jennifer Myers Ecton and embraced in a period set by Gary Wichansky.