ORLANDO — Any list of favorite children’s books is almost certain to include E.B. White’s classic story Charlotte’s Web, and for good reason. The story of the runt pig Wilbur and his friendship with the caring and devoted spider Charlotte is funny, sweet, and a clever tale of triumph. Like all pigs, Wilbur is slated to get transformed into bacon, but not if the wise Charlotte has anything to do with it.
How she ultimately saves her friend Wilbur says a lot about us humans and our desire to believe in something miraculous.
The story works so well that it’s the perfect choice for an adaptation as a children’s theater production, which is exactly what Orlando Shakes has done as part of their ongoing Children’s Series. Adopted for the stage by Joseph Robinette, the Shakes’ version is an enjoyable reminder of how a really first-rate children’s story has the ability to move adults as well.
What is the story of Charlotte’s Web?
White’s book, publishes in October 1952, is above all else a story about friendship. When the Arable family gets a litter of pigs and dad decides to slaughter the runt, it’s his daughter Fern who begs her father to spare the pig and let her care for it instead. Dad agrees, and Fern dubs her new friend Wilbur.
A heavy eater, the pig is eventually sold to Fern’s uncle Homer, and at first Wilbur is exceptionally lonely inside his new pen, until he makes friends with a sweet spider, Charlotte, living above him. When Wilbur realizes he’s being raised to be slaughtered, Charlotte decides she needs to step in and do something about it. But what?
One of the enduring charms of both the book and now this theatrical version is how easy it is to relate to Wilbur, his loneliness, his desire for companionship, and then his devotion to those who do befriend him. That’s a pretty universal sentiment.
Charlotte’s plan to save Wilbur is both ingenious and, once it’s put in motion to deceive the humans, it becomes a hilarious commentary on our desire to believe in something beyond the humdrum activities of daily life. At the time say, reality is never absent from this tall tale, particularly as the aging Charlotte recognizes that, unlike her young friend Wilbur, she is living out her final days.
How Does Orlando Shakes Treat The Story?
For a children’s production, I have no doubt this sentimental play will have wide crossover appeal to adults. The Shakes’ talented crew created a fabulous set inside their Margeson Theater, with kudos to scenic designer Vandy Wood for the spacious barn that dominates much of this large stage, complete with a loft where Charlotte spins her webs.
And talk about perfect casting! Sterling Street marvelously captures the rambunctious, wide eyed nature of the young Wilbur, as well as his heartbreaking response when he figures out Charlotte could soon be leaving him.
Tori Micaletti as Fern and Drew Stark as the sneaky rat Templeton are both great fun as well, efficiently bringing out the play’s broad humor. And I had enormous affection for Kimber King’s role as Charlotte, and be forewarned: she beautifully helps to make this one a real tearjerker by the end.
This play, which lasts for a speedy hour without intermission, is expertly directed (by Nick Bublitz) and acted by the terrific performers to hold the attention of every child in the audience, while giving the adults plenty to enjoy as well.
Where Can I See Charlotte’s Web?
Charlotte’s Web is being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater at 812 E. Rollins St. now through Nov. 12. For tickets and more information, call 407-447-1700.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.