The current featured production of the Colonial Beach Playhouse, “Charlotte’s Web,” will bring smiles, laughter and points to ponder for audiences young and old alike. From the simple stage of the community center, and with minimal props and sets, the audience is transported to the magical realm of this moving children’s classic. Its powerful messages about life and love are conveyed through 15 talented, enthusiastic actors—three of whom are just of elementary school age, and the production involves a willingness of the crew to take on multiple tasks, including producer Bob Christiansen who helps to facilitate set changes.
The story begins at the break of day at the Arabel Farm, which is buzzing with excitement after the birth of a litter of pigs during the night. Narrators Suzy Pietras–Smith and Kathi Mears introduce one of the piglets, the winsome and heart-melting Wilbur (Anthony Sammaro), who is wide-eyed with wonder as he explores the world around him.
But it’s not long before danger looms. When young Fern (Brianna Washington) sees her father, John Arabel (Thomas Savage), heading to the barn with an ax, she demands that her mother, Martha Arabel (Ericka Morgan), tell her why the weapon is needed. Her mom explains a simple fact of farm life. The smallest piglet, the runt of the litter, would probably die anyway and will be done away with. In the words of her father, “A weakling makes trouble.”
This scene launches the endearing dynamic that goes on throughout the show between the piglet and the audience, initiated by emotions conveyed through Wilbur’s animated expressions and mimed movement. With lawyerly righteousness, Fern argues for the life of the piglet she has befriended, declaring, “It’s unfair. The pig couldn’t help being born small could it? This is the most terrible case of injustice!” Farmer Arabel yields to her petition and entrusts the care of the piglet to his young daughter.
Wilbur thrives in Fern’s care to the point where it is beyond the Arabels’ resources. The decision is made to offer to sell Wilbur to Fern’s uncle and aunt, Homer and Edith Zuckerman (Don Smith and Heather Trivett), who are better equipped to care for him. The Zuckermans welcome their new pig, and Wilbur’s first day in their barn opens the threshold to a bevy of delightful animal characters, including Goose and Gander (Nancy Duggan and Dan Staicer), Mama Sheep and her little lamb (Rachel Brooke Thompson and Rosy Morgan), and one self-centered and voracious rat, Templeton (Samuel Wallace). The scene also brings to the stage the buoyant, eager-to-serve farmhand Lurvy (Stephen Eric Thompson).
Yet it is only after nightfall, when all the animal friends have returned to their pens and the Zuckemans and Lurvy are tucked away in their beds that a character emerges who will prove to be Wilbur’s best friend: Charlotte A. Cavatica (Aimee Grugan). The caring spider with a special hidden talent will eventually be the source of his protection, even at the cost of sacrificing herself.
As the action unfolds and Wilbur, still thriving, is once again in jeopardy of being sold at the market, Charlotte weaves the web of a plan to make him indispensable, by virtue of his great value, which wins recognition at the County Fair. In the course of that strategy, Charlotte gives her last ounce of energy to highlight Wilbur’s many qualities—but not without leaving the legacy of 514 little offspring. Charlotte’s selflessness penetrates and transforms even Templeton, who was once unabashedly selfish, and he helps Wilbur to ensure the safety of her baby spiders.
With a bevy of lovable characters and plenty of physical humor, the show will delight young audiences. In addition, the story carries important messages for life for both children and adults.
“Kids will see that it’s possible for unlikely friendships to form and grow, and they will see that becoming a real friend involves much more than clicking a button on a screen,” said director Sher Lee. “And they’ll see that there is always a new beginning, that saying goodbye doesn’t have to be sad, and that love can go on.”
Meanwhile, adults will leave with food for thought in lines voiced by an innocent piglet such as “I don’t want food: I want love,” “I can face anything with a friend like you,” and “I may not live as long as I’d like but I’ve lived very well. A good life is much more important than having a long life. There are more important things than just thinking about yourself all the time.”
“First and foremost, I hope kids leave saying they had a great time,” said Lee. “And I hope that some may leave saying, ‘Hey, Mom, maybe I can do that!’” Lee would be pleased if she had heard the response of three siblings—Karin (7), Cristopher (5) and Jordan (4)—as they left the show. Their response to being asked if they wanted to be in a play was a resounding “yes,” followed by their best imitations of sheep bleats and pig snorts!