Review: ‘Charlotte’s Web’ at Laurel Mill Playhouse

Charlotte’s Web spins a charming tale at Laurel Mill Playhouse. This wonderful piece of Children’s Theatre was adapted by Joseph Robinette from E. B. White’s delightful children’s book and is directed by Patrick Pase. It tells the story of a pig named Wilbur who is desperate to avoid the butcher’s knife and Charlotte the spider’s campaign to keep that from happening. This story of friendship above all else warms the heart.

Spencer Kate Nelson and Julie Rogers. Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.
Spencer Kate Nelson and Julie Rogers. Photo by Julie Rogers.

From the minute you step into the theatre, you are welcomed by some of the acting troupe dressed in overalls and farm attire. Once seated you are awed by the incredible barnyard set designed by Patrick Pase and Marvin Rogers. The set is adorned with bales of hay, a working barn door on a pulley that moves out of the way to reveal the state fair background for later in the play and Charlotte’s suspended woven hammock chair and web. The walls of the barn were realistically designed and painted by Anne Hull and Betse Lyons. The set was indeed quite impressive for such a small space.

The sound and lighting design by Patrick Pase added the right touch to the set design. The sounds of barnyard animals, fireworks, lightening and familiar and well-known tunes that were interjected for certain moments, really enhanced the audience’s experience.

Spencer Kate Nelson’s costume designs were quite clever. For example, Wilbur the pig’s pink shirt and pink overalls and Charlotte’s costume in tones of grey from her silver grey wig to her beautiful grey tutu. Even Charlotte’s makeup was stunning with just the hint of glitter around her eyes and deep red lips. She made quite a presence on the stage as she sat in her web.

Director Patrick Pase did a fine job in casting the right actors for their roles which is the most important job of a director. His actors moved seamlessly from one tableau to another.

Charlotte played by Spencer Kate Nelson was lovely in the role of the sweet and cunning spider. Whenever she was on the stage your eyes were automatically drawn to her soft but commanding presence.

Julie Rogers (Wilbur) was the perfect complement to her spider friend. She has a smile that could light up a room which made us instantly want to route for her character from the start. Ms. Rogers’ expressions as Wilbur the pig were priceless.

Juliet Beach, Ron Able, Sally Roffman, and Dana Fleischer. Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.
Juliet Beach, Ron Able, Sally Roffman, and Dana Fleischer. Photo by Julie Rogers.

The two farmer families Ron Able (John Arable), Sally Roffman (Mrs. Arable), David McCrary (Homer Zuckerman), and Marge McGugan (Edith Zuckerman) did a terrific job making us believe that they just plain farm folks from somewhere in the mid-west, as well as, the Arable children played by Juliet Beach (Avery Arable) and Dana Fleischer (Fern).

The actors who portrayed the farm animals did an amusing and enchanting job making us believe what they were in both posture and speech.  Some of the farm animals also doubled in other small roles in the play. The farm animal community was played by IO Browne (Goose/Fairgoer), Taylor Duvall (Lamb/Fairgoer), Cassandra Ferrell (Uncle the pig/Fairgoer/Photographer), Anthony Griffin (Gander/Fairgoer), Betse Lyons (Sheep/Fairgoer), and Jen Sizer (Templeton the rat).

Major kudos go out to Marvin Rogers (First Member/Third Spider/Announcer) who was also the storyteller and banjo player extraordinaire. He entertained the audience both before the official beginning of the play and at the top of the play. Rogers shared the stage for most of the play with Erica Nelson (Second Member/Second Spider) and MerryRose Howley (Third Member/First Spider) as they too helped to weave the tale of the spider and the pig. It is to be noted that the final weekend of performances will be played by Anne Hull taking Ms. Howley’s spot in the show.

L to R: Marge McGugan, David McCrary, and Maureen Rogers. Photo courtesy of Laurel Mill Playhouse.
L to R: Marge McGugan, David McCrary, and Maureen Rogers. Photo by Julie Rogers.

Maureen Rogers (Lurvy) did a wonderful job as the excitable farm hand to Homer Zuckerman.

I highly recommend Charlotte’s Web for children of all ages. It’s a classic story with a great message about the importance of friendship and the true meaning of caring for others.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with one intermission.

Charlotte’s Web plays through July 24, 2016 at Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 617-9906, or purchase them online.

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Ilene Chalmers
Ilene has been an avid theater goer, performer and director for more than 40 years. Theater is Ilene’s first love and always has been from a very young age. She graduated with a B.A. degree in theater from the University of Maryland. In the early 1980s, she was a restaurant and theater reviewer for The Gaithersburg Gazette. Starting in the 1990s into the 2000s, Ilene was an English and Drama teacher in both Montgomery County Public Schools and The Harbour School in Annapolis. Ilene resides in Elkridge with fellow actor and husband David and their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Molly. Her proudest productions of late are her four wonderful grandchildren. She is extremely proud to be a member of DCMetroTheaterArts staff of writers.