Imagine you’re going to the theater. Thick carpet is under your feet as you briskly walk into the double glass doors of the Tempe Center for the Arts. It is daytime and in Arizona that means the sun is very, very bright. A lot of kids are gathered around a table. It is an activity table for you to learn how to make your own web. Twisting and looping yarn and pipe cleaners to form a simple web is not easy. How does Charlotte do it? How does Charlotte make a web that fills the top of a barn with such ease? The answer is easy. She is a spider made by E.B. White and she is flowing with experience, talent, generosity, and this fall she lives at Childsplay.
All the unique details of this show make it a “terrific” experience. Spider web cutouts light the closed drape to signify the importance of Charlotte’s web. As they open an amazingly realistic set captures the taste of a traditional barn. But the secret is that it is also a child’s playhouse. In the playhouse lives a naive pig, a scholarly sheep, a flibbertigibbet goose, a snarky rat, and an agile spider.
I read Charlotte’s Web in Third Grade. I liked it because it had many details and made a picture in my mind. The story starts with one little girl saving a little pig and by this one action a story unfolds that no matter how small you are you can change anything. I am small so I like that idea!
When the audience sees Fern for the first time she is sitting, swinging her legs on the second floor of the set, but once she adopts Wilber she is too busy being a mother to stop. Before Kyle Sorrell wonderfully portrays Wilber he is an adorable, little puppet acted by Fern. This is one of the cutest moments in the play. Katie Haas makes the puppet live. Hungrily, he reaches for his bottle. He is a bottomless pig who makes everybody in the audience giggle. We love Wilber before he speaks.
Another interesting choice is that the actors who play Fern’s family are also the animals. Just like in the Wizard of Oz, Fern uses the people from her usual life to take on the roles of her new, best friends. It shows how they are already family.
When Wilber moves to the Zuckerman farm we meet all the animals, but we wait to meet Charlotte. Her web fills the top floor of the barn. It is a character, too. It is Charlotte’s voice we hear first. The voice is merry and wise. Charlotte and Debra K. Stevens, who plays her, need balance to weave the words into the web. The words Charlotte uses to describe Wilber also define her (except for the “some pig” part).
As a Childsplay Kid Reporter I get the opportunity to go backstage, see the set, and interview the actors. Here are some secrets: The straw is actually carpet mixed with other fabrics. There’s an elephant door, but no elephants. An elephant door is a gigantic door used long ago when circuses would have elephants come onstage. Also, the Tempe Center for the Arts is not one building, but many buildings combined in one.
Since I thought the actors were well chosen for their roles I asked them what they had in common with their characters. Some of them shared their similar characteristics. Kate Haas, who plays Fern, “loves animals” and likes “to talk to them.” Jon Gentry “likes dumps” just like his character Templeton. Drew Swaine, Fern’s energetic brother, loves to “jump off things and catch bugs,” too. Farmer Zuckerman, Danny Karapetian, likes “to take care of animals.” Yolanda London, Mrs. Zuckerman, believes “six dollars is a lot of money” to spend on a little pig. While Katie McFadzen, the Goose, shared she “could be a little flighty, too.”
Some of the other questions I asked the actors were “What do you want the audience to enjoy?” “Me,” proclaimed Templeton (Jon Gentry) and everyone laughed. I also asked how this production was different from the other productions of Charlotte’s Web. “In one production, the adults were only on a screen. You could only see them from the hemline of their dress to their head.” I think it is better to see the adults, because it makes them more of a family and adds to the emotion of the play.
I think the best answer to my questions was from Kyle Sorrell. When I asked everyone what they would change if they directed the play, in a proper Wilbur manner, Kyle Sorrell said, “Charlotte lives.” After a moment he added, “Though it would ruin the story.” He was right. It is one of the saddest, but best details of the story and the play. But that is what makes a great web…all the details.