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Along came a spider: Michele Moynihan in HMT’s Charlotte’s Web.

Some Pig
By Kathy Ceceri

Charlotte’s Web
By E.B. White, adapted by Joseph Robinette, directed by Laurie Larson
Home Made Theater, through Dec. 19

Simplicity is the key to the charm of Home Made Theater’s latest family offering. The E.B. White tale about a girl, her pig and the spider whose fancy web-spinning spares the pig from the breakfast table doesn’t get its strength from special effects or fast-paced action, but from the idiosyncratic characters White invented to populate his hero’s barnyard. Director Laurie Larson has wisely chosen to let the actors shine through their animal personas without a lot of props or makeup, placing the task of transfiguration in the hands of her cast—and the audience’s imagination.

On a bright, spare stage that with a few strokes brings to mind a Grant Wood painting, Wilbur, the sweetly round-faced Byron Turner, prances about the stage a bit awkwardly, a heartfelt wide-eyed innocence on his face—the perfect embodiment of a spring pig. After a privileged upbringing as the bottle-fed darling of farm girl Fern, Wilbur moves down the road to a barn populated by a community of animals a little wary of making friends with someone destined to become bacon in the fall. To the piglet’s rescue comes the dark and mysterious spider, Charlotte, who figures that fooling people can’t be as hard as fooling a fly. Slinking her way back and forth on her platform at the top of the barn, one hand turned fetchingly under her chin, the black-clad Michele Moynihan is one part housemother, one part Dragon Lady. Among the animals watching the goings-on with varying degrees of sympathy are Rebeca Rodriguez and John Schmiederer as a pair of jabbering geese. Rodriguez steals every scene she waddles onto, her own goosiness nicely amplified by the feathery costume by Karen Boynton. Steve Henel uses a Dead End Kids tough-guy accent to create a somewhat menacing Templeton the rat, a character many of the children in the audience probably could relate to even more than the young Wilbur.

While the animals are vivid and articulate (White was sneaking polysyllabic dialogue into children’s literature long before Lemony Snicket came along), the human characters in this stage adaptation come off as far less important. As Fern, Sara Donnellan does a good job but isn’t given much to do; Rick Wissler, as her uncle Homer, gets in some red-faced excitement when he realizes his Terrific pig is going to garner him some attention. A trio of narrators (Peter Burleigh, Jordana Fleischur, and Adrienne Parker) are used to introduce some of White’s poetic descriptions, but it’s the animals who really bring Charlotte’s Web to life. From the chase scene when Wilbur makes a break for it, to Templeton’s orgy of eating at the county fair, Larson’s animals draw in kids and adults alike, right through to White’s bittersweet end.

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