Theater Review: A Spider And Pig Teach Many Lessons In Charming 'Charlotte's Web'

By: Amy Tagliaferri

Topics: Local Theater

A scene from “Charlotte's Web” at Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre. COURTESY PHOTO

E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” always astounds me. I don’t really like spiders; I actually freak a little if one is on me. But every time I see or read White’s story I tear up when Charlotte explains how spiders don’t live very long. The story of this friendship between a pig and a spider, now on stage at the Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, is touching and appealing, and filled with lessons of true friendship, getting along with others who are different than you, selflessness, growing up and dealing with loss. It covers a lot of bases.

Fern Arable takes the runt of a litter of pigs as a pet to save him from the chopping block and calls him Wilbur. Wilbur eventually goes to live on a neighboring farm with the Zuckermans. Once again the ax looms over him, for his mission there is to get fattened up for a springtime slaughter. His friend Charlotte decides she will single-handedly save her friend by writing words about him in her web. My favorite line in the story, and in the play adapted by Joseph Robinette, is then uttered by Mrs. Zuckerman when she responds to all the fuss about how Wilbur is no ordinary pig. She says, “I’d say we have no ordinary spider!”

Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre and Rob Zapple are the perfect pair; they’ve been “friends” for 38 years. As Zapple explains in the program, his ties to the theater are deep; both his mother and his sister have strong connections to it also. Every summer Rob and his wife Michele collaborate on a production, and “Charlotte’s Web” is one their finest. All the signature moves of a Zapple production are here: talented performances, adorable young actors, the infamous Zapple Dance (if you know, you know!) on a beautiful set in the outdoor theater. On opening night there was a delightful breeze as we watched the sun set behind Charlotte’s web. Children in the audience were encouraged to sit on blankets in front of the stage and gazed transfixed at the action.

On the cuteness meter this show registers very high. The goslings and baby spiders (Timmy Jesus, Vera McLardy and Shannon Nee) nearly steal the show, and that would be quite a feat if they did. The actors are all excellent. Henry Cramer’s Wilbur was the anchor of the show, and he never disappoints. Cramer reacts and masters the pig’s antics from pratfalls to panic attacks. Ashlynn Nee is a natural; Nee captures Fern on the cusp of young adulthood perfectly. Erin O’Sullivan is an elegant and wise Charlotte. Watching her spin her web was like a slow, graceful dance. Sean Spies as Lurvy, the Zuckerman’s farmhand, got the most laughs, and deservedly so. He’s hilarious! Steph DeFerie’s Templeton the rat gave Spies a run for his money on the laughter spectrum. DeFerie was also fabulous.

The animals in the barn brought giggles and applause with each engaging entrance; the goose and gander (Charlotte Naughton and Mairead Paquette) saying everything in triplicate, and the sheep (Abby McLardy and Brenna Carlton) who “baa” all their lines. Kudos to Mindy Herington for all those costumes, from Charlotte’s legs, sparkling headpiece and belt to Wilbur’s hat, and the cleverly done geese and sheep. The ensemble who portray county fair goers, reporters and fair judges are the cute and talented Joseph Draper, Elise Daniel and Samantha Kelly.

The adults in the show are all worth mentioning, too. This is a big cast! David Wallace and Dianne Wadsworth (I hope what I read in the program isn’t true, Dianne!) as Homer and Edith Zuckerman were excellent. John Cramer and Jillian Annessi as John and Martha Arable depicted parents as a whole, full of worry and concern yet loving and even fun. Narrators Melina Zullas, Katie Waters and Rod Owens were spot on with sound effects and moved the story along flawlessly. W.C. Field’s line “Never work with animals or children” probably echoed in their minds more than once!

Zapple’s direction and Michelle Zapple’s choreography is notable on this small but multi-layered stage. Matt Kohler’s lighting design and Tristen DiVincenzo’s sound aptly sets off James P. Byrne’s set impeccably amidst the challenges of an outside setting and the large cast. Michele Zapple and DiVincenzo double as stage managers, with Xevi Pina Parker on both the light and sound board. The intimateness of the setting is charming, and after the show the autograph session with the costumed actors completes the live theater experience. The show is a bit over 90 minutes with a brief intermission. Go and see spiders in whole new way!

DETAILS
"Charlotte’s Web"
At Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, Division Street, West Harwich
Through Aug. 16, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the outdoor stage
Information and reservations: 508-432-2002 or www.capecodtheatrecompany.org