Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Theater review: Charlotte’s Web at Casa Manana Theatre in Fort Worth
This show could make the perfect belated Valentine's gift for a special child in your life.
"Daddy. He burped."
"It's okay. He excused himself."
Next to me at Casa Mañana Theatre, this darling exchange occurred between a father and son as Charlotte's Web (presented by Casa Manana through February 26) played before us. The little fellow looked to be about four years old. His bright eyes were transfixed on the stage as he sat upon his papa's lap. At that moment the object of his concern was Templeton the rat played marvelously by Christopher Deaton. The Templeton puppet, with quirky whiskers and beady red eyes, was cleverly designed by Winston Ragle. He told of his delicious digestion of the county fair droppings, and then belched beautifully. A large groan of laughter and delight emanated from the audience as the rodent lost his meal and then, well … ate it again. Children shrieked "ooh" and "yucky," but obviously took great pleasure in the squirm-in-your-seat moment.
Director Joe Sturgeon did a marvelous job with E.B. White's classic story and the stage adaptation and used all local actors. Having watched the film version dozens of times with my children years ago, I was refreshingly entertained by this play without music. The masterful text became more prominent again.
The puppetry performed by the actors, using a combination of expressions on their own faces coupled with their body movements and the puppets' movements, was charming and nicely balanced. Had they only expressed through the puppets' movement, it would have been boring. Unlike the Muppet-type puppet, the audience saw the puppet handlers, and thus, their movements and facial expressions were crucial.
The master of this handling was pleasingly, the pig, Wilbur, gleefully played by Lindsay Gee. She wore pink overalls and a turned-around baseball cap, and skillfully maneuvered the petite yet plump swine. Gee's voice charmed us as she delivered the beautiful lines of E.B. White's text: "It's not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." Ms. Gee's squirming and prancing about as the happy-go-lucky pig had just the right touch of carefree youthfulness. Yet, when the time came, she donned the appropriate amount of solemnity when her friend Charlotte's dire fate neared.
The character of the spider Charlotte was skillfully woven by Kia Dawn Fulton who wore a black sweater with a spiderlike collar and lacey long braids in her hair to reflect the structure of her arachnid puppet character. Ms. Fulton's soft voice and sweeping movements were a delight to behold. Ms. Fulton used her hand puppet and movements to great effect when she wove letters in her web with ease. Tammy Spencer designed the stunning costumes for the production and achieved a nostalgic but artful effect.
In contrast to the puffy silver space-age dome ceiling above us, we observed the interior of a barn in front of us with wispy straw and a pigpen. Lauren Magee, as Fern, peered through the fence and chatted with her buddy, Wilbur. In this production, Fern's role was not as central as Wilbur's was, still Ms. Magee played the animal lover farm girl sweetly.
Julia Vanderveen as the goose proved to us she truly was "no flibberty-ibberty-gibbit" as she waddled about in her sunny straw hat and bobbing gooseneck. Ms. Vanderveen's goofy bow-legged walk and repeating of words, words, words created a flutter of laughter each time she traipsed onto the stage. She was "T double-E double-R double-R double-I double-F double-I, C, C, C!" In case you got lost…that's "terrific."
The only slow moment of the 75-minute production occurred at the opening when three characters narrated the background story. However, the pre-story account helped set the play to movement and was accomplished artfully by the storytellers.
There were numerous sound and lighting effects, dog barks and fireworks, that added authentic touches and visual variety needed to keep the attention of the young audience. Ryan Mansfield designed the soothing barnyard sounds and Samuel Rushen devised the lighting.
This show could make the perfect belated Valentine's gift for a special child in your life — you know, the child next door who brings your paper to you or the one who always smiles and waves at you when you walk your dog. Take a chance — give the gift of a lovely story to a child. Perhaps it will inspire you to read E.B. White's book with charming anthropomorphic animals for the first time.
True friendship and loyalty are taught in the play, and even the difficult topic of death is tenderly handled. Wilbur says it best, "A good life is much more important than having a long life."
But this production does not have a long life. Hurry to see it before it closes and Charlotte weaves her final web on February 26.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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