HT Review: Charlotte’s Web
Get stuck in this fine web if you possibly can
October 20, 2019
A grown man plays a baby pig divinely. A woman swims in the air, and she is pure grace. These are just two of the myriad wonders of “Charlotte’s Web,” produced by Cardinal Stage.
Take a novelist, E.B. White, who received a Pulitzer Prize special citation and the National Medal for Literature, along with other awards, and turn his children’s book into a play (Joseph Robinette). Then find a director who can attract and manage a capable cast. Add an immersive hay-and-barn-walls set (Jeremy Smith), and you’ve got a winner, one of the best things I’ve seen at Cardinal.
Yes, yes, “Charlotte’s Web” is my favorite children’s book, but that doesn’t mean I had to love this play. In fact, I expected to be disappointed, especially after having just seen a witless “Peppa Pig Live!” at a different theater. And, yes, my mother nearly named me Fern, after the book’s little farm girl. And, even though I respect, admire and love spiders, the production, still, could have been a big bummer.
But it wasn’t. It was bummer-less bliss.
First of all, Caleb Curtis. I couldn’t help but approach him during the post-show talk with “I love you. I love you!” What a wonderful Wilbur-the-doomed pig he makes. His grunts are so realistic I looked for a hog offstage.
By the way, Cardinal is taking donations after the performances for Oinking Acres Farm & Rescue Sanctuary, an organization that helps abandoned animals.
But back to Curtis the piglet. He is winning — “Nothing bad could ever happen!” — and I imagined every child, and adult, in the audience Saturday morning went home with a fondness for Earth’s creatures. Curtis simply became a 2-month-old pig. Period.
The entire adult cast was adeptly selected for this prize of a play, and another HIGH-light is Kate-Lyn Edwards as Charlotte the spider. An aerialist, she spins and rolls in midair. But, her airborne gymnastics aside, she is lovely, and we want her to live forever (spoiler, almost, alert). Costume designer Kayla Cieslinski’s multi-legged spider gear for Charlotte stole her first few scenes.
As the what’s-in-it-for-me rat, Templeton, Tom Slater, as usual, had me guffawing. “Weaklings make trouble,” he advises, referring to Wilbur. Then, later: “Let (Wilbur) die. I should worry?” A jolly good costume (Cieslinski) effect was Templeton’s big belly after having consumed various portions of country-fair fare. Hilarious.
Kenny Arnold II was sheepishly elegant (Cieslinski again) in tweed suit, curly gray wig and purple fuzzy slippers, as a sheep. He played additional parts well, too, including the prize-winning competitor pig, “Uncle.” I just hated Uncle for glowering over little Wilbur as he does when he, Uncle, wins. Brynn Jones was good in a variety of parts, including a mother and father goose duo in a clever double-gendered costume (Cieslinski). Fern and her brother, Avery, were played by the cute duo of Harper Davis and Sam Clarke.
E.B. White also was honored with providing “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children,” so it’s no shock that “Charlotte’s Web” is full of pithy lessons. They include letting go, friendship, the difficulty of being new in an established group, and life’s quality versus its quantity.
Liam Castellan directed, and boy, did he get it right. Ensnare yourself in this one.