‘Charlotte’s Web’ at Encore Stage and Studio by Julia L. Exline

Encore Stage and Studio present’s Charlotte’s Web, a beloved children’s tale about bravery and friendship presented for kids, by kids, as the cast and crew are made up entirely of young adults. Seeing fellow children perform onstage makes theatre accessible to kids in a highly encouraging way, and I believe that it is something that every child should experience. With its themes of teamwork, loyalty, and hope (and, okay, who doesn’t love a talking pig?), I cannot think of a better story in which to do this than Charlotte’s Web. Recommended for ages four and above, this production is finely directed by Susan Alison Keady.

The elements of this production remain simple – Set and Lighting Designer Doug Leonard uses wooden slats for fences and a barn, while spotlights and sound effects such as farm animals, rainstorms, crowds, and fireworks are used. Costumes by Debra Leonard include overalls and sundresses for the people, and loose animal costumes for the rest of the cast. The sack-like structure for the animal costumes are the same for the most part, with defining pieces such as mouse ears, a curly tail, or a beak. These simplified elements make it easy to focus your attention on where it belongs—the children.

Narrated by a bevy of sheep and adorably repetitive (repetitive-etitive-etitive) ducklings, a pig named Wilbur (Chris Hahn) is born. Small and weak, farmer Mr. Arable (Madeleine Wagner) is about to kill Wilbur when his kindly daughter Fern (Ellie Ward) steps in to save him. Once raised into a healthy pig, Wilbur is given to Fern’s uncle, Homer (a great performance by Erin Loftus), but Wilbur’s life is still at grand risk, as the farm animals tease him at every meal for being “fattened up.” It becomes clear that unless Wilbur can prove himself an indispensable pig, he will soon find himself in a frying pan. With some help from a faithful and creative friend (Reiss Gidner as an enchanting Charlotte), and some favors from a grumpy rat, Wilbur may just stand a chance.

Ellie Ward (Fern), who works to protect endangered Wilbur (Chris Hahn). Photo by Larry McClemons.

Most know that the story of Charlotte’s Web is one of friendship, love, and ultimately, loss. Charlotte’s selfless acts are shown in a deliberate light – she becomes more and more strained and exhausted throughout the play, but never even considers giving up on her friend, even when the end result becomes clear to her. She moves gracefully, speaks articulately (“if I can fool a bug, I can surely fool a man”), and is accompanied by soft music – ever the lady. Just as helpful, though not nearly as refined, is a greasy rat named Templeton (Thomas Schindler). Schindler’s hunched stance and foul grimace proved to be a crowd favorite. The actors do a fine job, especially when, at my performance, a stage prop went awry and they remained unfazed, like true pros.

If you have a child that enjoys theatre in any aspect, whether it be onstage, backstage, or from the audience, I highly recommend a showing of Charlotte’s Web, so that they may gather encouragement from their fellow peers. And really, is there anything more adorable than children dressed up as barnyard animals?

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

Charlotte’s Web runs through June 10th at Encore Stage and Studio. All performances are held at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 S. Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. To purchase tickets, call (703) 548-1154 or order them online.

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