came a spider: Michele Moynihan in HMT’s Charlotte’s
E.B. White, adapted by Joseph Robinette, directed by Laurie
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.