EB White’s “Charlotte’s Web” never ceases to amaze me. I don’t really like spiders; I actually freak out a little when one is on me. But every time I see or read White’s story, it brings tears to my eyes when Charlotte explains that spiders don’t live very long. The story of this friendship between a pig and a spider, now on stage at Cape Cod Theater Company/Harwich Junior Theater, is touching and engaging, and full of lessons in true friendship, dealing with others who are different from you, Selflessness, growing up and dealing with loss. It covers a lot of bases.
Fern Arable adopts the little one from a litter of pigs as a pet to save him from the chopping block and names him Wilbur. Wilbur ends up living with the Zuckermans on a neighboring farm. The ax hovers over him again, for his mission there is to get fattened up for a spring slaughter. His girlfriend Charlotte decides to single-handedly save her boyfriend by writing words about him on her web. My favorite line in the story, and in the play adapted by Joseph Robinette, is then uttered by Mrs. Zuckerman as she responds to all the fuss about Wilbur being no ordinary pig. She says, “I would say we don’t have an ordinary spider!”
Cape Cod Theater Company/Harwich Junior Theater and Rob Zapple are the perfect couple; They’ve been “friends” for 38 years. As Zapple explains in the program, his ties to theater run deep; Both his mother and sister have strong connections to it as well. Rob and his wife Michele work together on a production every summer, and Charlotte’s Web is one of their best. All the hallmark moves of a Zapple production are here: talented performances, adorable young actors, the infamous Zapple dance (if you know, you know!) on a beautiful open-air theater set. There was a lovely breeze on opening night as we watched the sun set behind Charlotte’s net. Children in the audience were encouraged to sit on blankets in front of the stage and stare at the action.
This show ranks very high on the cuteness meter. The goslings and baby spiders (Timmy Jesus, Vera McLardy and Shannon Nee) almost steal the show, and that would be quite an accomplishment 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 pitfalls to panic attacks. Ashlynn Nee is a natural; Nee perfectly captures Fern on the cusp of young adulthood. Erin O’Sullivan is an elegant and wise Charlotte. Watching her weave her web was like a slow, graceful dance. Sean Spies as Lurvy, the Zuckerman’s farm hand, got the most laughs, and rightly so. He’s hilarious! Templeton, Steph DeFerie’s rat, has rivaled Spies on the laugh spectrum. DeFerie was fabulous too.
The animals in the barn brought giggles and applause at every engaged performance; the goose and the gander (Charlotte Naughton and Mairead Paquette), who say everything in triplicate, and the sheep (Abby McLardy and Brenna Carlton), who all leave their lines “baa”. Kudos to Mindy Herington for all of these costumes, from Charlotte’s legs, sparkly hat and belt to Wilbur’s hat and the cleverly done geese and sheep. The ensemble cast, which portrays carnival goers, reporters and carnival judges, are the cute and talented Joseph Draper, Elise Daniel and Samantha Kelly.
The adults on the show are also worth mentioning. That’s a big cast! David Wallace and Dianne Wadsworth (I hope what I read on the show is wrong, Dianne!) as Homer and Edith Zuckerman were excellent. John Cramer and Jillian Annessi as John and Martha Arable showed parents as a whole, full of worries and worries, but loving and even funny. Narrators Melina Zullas, Katie Waters and Rod Owens were spot on with sound effects and flawlessly moved the story along. WC Field’s phrase “Never work with animals or children” has probably crossed your mind more than once!
Zapple’s direction and Michelle Zapple’s choreography are remarkable on this small but diverse stage. Matt Kohler’s lighting design and Tristen DiVincenzo’s sound set James P. Byrne’s sets impeccably amid the challenges of an outdoor setting and a large cast. Michele Zapple and DiVincenzo double as stage managers, with Xevi Pina Parker on both the light and sound boards. The intimacy of the setting is enchanting, and after the show, the autograph session with the costumed actors completes the live theater experience. The show lasts just over 90 minutes with a short intermission. Go see spiders in a whole new way!
At the Cape Cod Theater Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, Division Street, West Harwich
Until August 16, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the open-air stage
Information and reservations: 508-432-2002 or www.capecodtheatrecompany.org