Review: Casa's "Charlotte's Web"

02/11/2012 2:09 PM

02/11/2012 2:09 PM

 

It’s terrific! It’s radiant! It’s Some Show. For anyone who didn’t grow up watching the classic movie or reading the classic E.B. White novel, here’s the runt-down (pun intended): A little piglet is born onto the Arable farm is saved from the chopping block by eight-year-old Fern who lovingly names him Wilbur. Wilbur begins to make friends in his new home while he learns about the realities of farm life. He meets a repetitive-repetitive-repetitive Goose, a sheep with an Irish brogue, a devilish rat named Templeton, and a mysterious, kind and industrious spider. How a spider gets a name like Charlotte A. Cavatica is anyone’s guess. Wilbur comes to learn the devastating reality that it is only a matter of time before he will be slaughtered for bacon, ham and pork chops. Charlotte vows to save his life, and save she does, by weaving messages into her web that bring a torrent of attention, fascination, and special prizes for Wilbur; thus saving him from the Big Slop Trough in The Sky. (Why all the attention, fascination and special prizes aren’t awarded to a spider capable of weaving messages in the English language is also anyone’s guess.)

What Parents Will Like:
While the animals are trying to save Wilbur from demise, the actors themselves look like chickens with their heads cut off. In a good way. The actors play several different roles, switching from Mr. Arable to Templeton, from Mrs. Arable to the silly-silly-silly Goose (who was hilarious), and so forth. It’s fun to watch them flit offstage one instant in overalls and enter again wearing a giant puppet appendage and a new hat. The puppet design was ingenious; actor and puppet were two halves of one whole — not only did the actor have to manipulate the puppet’s voice and movements, but also their own body language and facial expressions. That’s got to be harder than it looks. But what it looks like is fun. And really funny, too.

What Kids Will Like: Puppets, animals, spiders — what’s not to like-like-like? I was sitting section 8, which was apparently the press box, because about 25 3-year-olds were peppering their mothers with questions like, “Can I touch the pig? What is the sheep doing? Is he eating? What is he eating? Can I have what he is eating?” It actually became difficult to hear the actors because of all the commentary. I think by the end of the show, every child in the audience wanted to begin a new life   on that stage as a barnyard creature. Or at least take one of the puppets home to raise in the laundry room.

Good to Know: “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” is, I believe, one of the lines of the show. Or some version of it. It was also the opening line of the novel as was the image of the father walking solemnly out to the barn to kill the runts. Morbid, right? Well, only if your child is clued-in enough to understand. The theme of death is, weirdly, kind of the main theme of the story. It is always very clear why Charlotte is so tirelessly weaving her magical web. Wilbur has several crying episodes and even a fainting spell at the prospect of his death — stylized in a sweetly humorous way, of course. So for kids who might not understand where bacon comes from, or who think that only old people die (emphasis on “old” and “people”) this could pose a hazard. But the show is much more lighthearted — and funnier — than that movie. And spoiler alert: in a twist of irony, Charlotte dies at the end of the story, but does so saving the life of her friend Wilbur — which is so beautiful. At the end of the day, the story is one of self-sacrifice for friendship.

And, I don’t know if this matters to you or not, but the show happens NOT to be a musical. I was surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a Casa children’s show that wasn’t.

All in All: This show is perfect for a kid who has read the book or seen the movie previously, and dealt with any angst related to the subject matter beforehand. Or for your average, hardened ten-year-old. But even for younger kids (18 mos-3 years) who are coming in fresh, the fun barnyard/animal visuals and sound effects will keep their attention. There is very little “scare-factor” in this particular show — no evil monsters, witches, loud explosions, dramatic lighting cues — so rest assured. Another great story told well from our friends at Casa Mañana.

Show Info: Runs through February 26. Watch the trailer (cool new feature!) and purchase tickets at casamanana.org.

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