‘Charlotte’s Web’ at Theatreworks USA at George Mason University’s Center for the Performing Arts

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS

Charlotte’s Web Weaves a Magical Spell at George Mason

True confession time: one of my all-time favorite books is Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White’s magical tale of the friendship between a runty pig, a clever spider, and a brave little girl. Not only have I read it aloud to classes of students as well as my own children, I’ve also insisted that we listen to the charming unabridged audio version on long car trips (nothing beats E.B. White as the voices of Wilbur and Charlotte). So it was with excitement – and some trepidation – that I joined the hundreds of small children at the George Mason Center for the Performing Arts for Theatreworks USA’s abridged production of Charlotte’s Web on Thursday morning.

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Theatreworks USA’s production of Charlotte’s Web does not disappoint. This production – targeted at the youngest theatergoers – is both charming and magical. With only five actors and minimal scenery, they strip the story to its essentials, focusing on the love, friendship, and humor that make Charlotte’s Web a classic.

As Wilbur the pig, beautifully suggested by long pink underwear and a snout, Aaron Kaplan hits all the right notes from awe-struck newborn to faithful friend. His performance was engaging and full of heart.

Patricia Lynn made a delightfully clever Charlotte with her aviator glasses and long black arms. As a spider, her movements were necessarily limited by the barn set, but she used her space and her movements to advantage. She turned in a vivacious performance that was fierce, funny, and tender.

Kimberly Weinkle charmed as both the tomboyish Fern and the constantly, constantly, constantly repeating Mama Goose. Neal Tucker and Daniel Berlingeri drove the show as all of the other characters, constantly changing costumes and accents, yet keeping their distinct personas clear. Tucker was particularly effective as the gruff Homer Zuckerman concealing a heart of gold. Berlingeri stole scenes every time he appeared as the selfish and hungry rat Templeton.

Under the skillful direction of Joe Barros, the Charlotte’s Web company found the right combination of telling the story truthfully and keeping their young audience engaged and on the edge of their seats. My favorite moment occurred late in the show when the actors, all dressed as barn animals followed the progression of invisible baby spiders across the stage and up towards the auditorium ceiling. More than 3/4 of the young audience members present leapt from their seats to try to see the baby spiders “fly” over their heads. It was a wonderful moment of suspended belief and theatre magic that should stay with these children for a long time.

James D. Sandefur’s scenic design suggests both a barn yard and a county fair. It is functional, yet fun. Anne-Marie Wright’s costume design is more than up to the challenge of clearly representing myriad characters for each actor. Sheep, geese, rats, spiders, pigs, farmers, and children were all colorful and pleasingly depicted.

The cast of 'Charlotte's Web.' Photo courtesy of Theaterworks,USA..
The cast of ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ Photo courtesy of Theaterworks,USA..

Charlotte’s Web is a play by Joseph Robinette based on the Newbery Medal-winning book  by E.B. White (Stuart Little, Trumpet of the Swan) with an incidental music score by Jeffrey Lunden (Winner of the Lortel Award, Rodgers Award, and Jonathan Larson Award, and composer of Theatreworks USA productions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Little Prince, and The Great Railroad Race).

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes. Recommended for ages 5 and above.

Charlotte’s Web played for two performances on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at the George Mason Center for the Arts — 4400 University Drive, MS 2F5, in Fairfax, VA. For future events, check out their Events Calendar.

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Diane Jackson Schnoor
Diane Jackson Schnoor is delighted to be back in the DC metro area after nearly two decades away. She earned her BA at The American University, with a minor in theatre arts, and holds a master's and doctorate in elementary education from the University of Virginia. A lifelong devotee of the arts, Diane's reviews and arts feature stories have been published in The Millbrook Independent and DC Metro Theatre Arts. As an actress, Diane has performed with the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, the Fort Bragg Playhouse, TriArts Sharon Playhouse, and in musicals and dance shows in Millbrook, NY, Amenia, NY, and Lakeville, CT. Her day job career has run the gamut from adjunct college faculty to preschool director to public relations director and back again, but her primary occupation these days is as chauffeur to the two young actresses who inhabit her home in Winchester, VA.