Editors' pick

Charlotte's Web

Children's Theater, Kid-Friendly
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Editorial Review

Adventure Theatre offers pleasant, lively ‘Charlotte’s Web’

By Celia Wren
Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

An industrious arachnid might be proud of the unassuming high-wire act Joseph Robinette pulled off with his dramatization of "Charlotte's Web" at Adventure Theatre. Into an hour-long show that requires just a handful of actors, the playwright managed to distill the essence of E.B. White's beloved children's book, which runs 100-plus pages and features a mini-Noah's Ark of idiosyncratic animal and human characters.

In director Serge Seiden's pleasant, lively staging of the play, six performers scurry about to conjure up a bustling farm and a country fairground. A young pig frolics, geese and crusty New Englanders amble about, and the actions of an ingenious spider teach lessons about friendship, generosity and the power of properly spelled words. (The show is recommended for age 3 and up.)

The proceedings get a boost from designer Luciana Stecconi's detailed barn setting, whose wood-slat walls are decked out with ropes, a harness, a wagon wheel and other agrarian paraphernalia. This straw-scattered milieu first represents the birthplace of Wilbur (Davis Hasty), a runty piglet who becomes protege to a little girl named Fern (Blair Bowers). Wilbur soon moves to a nearby farm, but his real destination would be bacon, were it not for Charlotte (Deidra LaWan Starnes), a selfless spider who comes up with a scheme to save his life.

Jumping, pirouetting and jogging excitedly in place, Hasty's Wilbur brims with appealing childish energy - and he looks adorable in his pink baseball cap, pink shirt and pink sneakers, with a pink kerchief jutting from his jeans' back pocket. (Heather Lockard designed the expressive anthropomorphic costumes.) Starnes, who often stands in a wide-stance plie, sinuously undulating her hands and arms, invests Charlotte with charisma and maternal poise, adding layers of peaceful exhaustion as the spider nears her natural end.

But some of the most enjoyable portraits come from role-juggling ensemble members. Chris Mancusi's depiction of a snorting, self-satisfied pig named Uncle is as piquant as his baleful, doddering Sheep (who totters around with spectacles and a walking stick). Danny Pushkin (a castmate of this critic in a 2010 Capital Fringe Festival production) has zesty turns as (among other characters) a curmudgeonly farmhand and a dimwitted, opinionated goose, whose swooping back and head movements look extremely gooselike. At the reviewed performance, Jude Tibeau slunk around plausibly as Templeton, a solipsistic rat. (Jason B. McIntosh usually fills the role.)

"Charlotte's Web" might benefit from a subtler sound design: The sweeping strains of classical music that burst out occasionally beg too overtly for audience emotion. But young audiences will perhaps not care that this effect - apologies, Wilbur - is a little hammy.