Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of Completeness
Charlotte's Web is the story of Wilbur, a runty spring pig who is saved from the farmer's ax by a young girl named Fern. Fern convinces her father to spare Wilbur's life by promising to take responsibility for all his care and feeding. Under her care, Wilbur grows quickly and is eventually sold to Fern's Uncle Homer. Wilbur is happy to befriend the other animals in Homer's barn, especially a well-spoken spider named Charlotte, but is devastated to learn he will likely be slaughtered for meat come winter. Charlotte hatches a plan to save Wilbur, but the clock is ticking.
A pink shirt (Amanda Wolff's understated costume designs are impeccable) is the only external indication that Adam Howard is playing a piglet, but he easily conveys Wilbur's boundless enthusiasm and porcine essence. Alex Keiper and Alex Bechtel are similarly effusive as the adorable Goose and Gander, but the most impressive transformation comes from Ayana Strutz as Charlotte. Strutz uses her acrobatic skillsdescending on aerial silks and scurrying across the floor in a back walkoverto move like a spider, but her poise and dignified manner make her truly arachnid. Brian Anthony Wilson is formidable as both Sheep and Uncle Homer Zuckerman. J. Hernandez is surprisingly charming as the furtive, ill-tempered rat Templeton.
David Gordon's uncomplicated set design is a perfect blank canvas for this radiant cast, and Thom Weaver's warm lighting is superb.
MacLaughlin's Charlotte's Web is aimed squarely at young theatergoers (I think the sweet spot is probably 4-12 years old)there are no jokes or references designed to go over the kid's heads. And though the play's themes of life, death and friendship are universal, I probably would not go without a young person to take. I would however happily return many times with all the kids in my life. Seeing that sort of wonder in the eyes of a child you love is priceless.
Charlotte's Web, through February 3, 2019, at the Arden Theatre's F. Otto Haas Stage, 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets and more information, please visit ardentheatre.org.