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The spider & the sty
Youtheatre presents Charlotte’s Web
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
For a classic children’s story full of talking barnyard animals and a kindly spider, Charlotte’s Web sure doesn’t go easy on its porcine protagonist Wilbur.
The little pig is born the runt of the litter, and is on his toes — or hoofs — from a very early age, trying to escape the fate that is usually reserved for pigs.
Or, as Peter Rumsey, who plays Wilbur in Youtheatre’s stage adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, puts it bluntly: “The story is pretty much about Wilbur’s life avoiding being turned into bacon.”
Well, yes, it is… sort of. Kailee Blaettner (Charlotte) says E.B. White’s popular story is really about the importance of friendship. “The message is find a friend who really cares about you and would do anything for you,” she says.
Mary Rumsey (the Lamb) adds: “It’s about friendship and what friends mean to people.”
And Wilbur is lucky he has so many close friends, because according to the cast of Youtheatre’s production, a lot of people are out to get Wilbur. In the very beginning, farmer John Arable (Alex Hockenberry) wants to get rid of Wilbur because he’s the runt of the litter. His daughter Fern (Annie Rumsey) prevails on him to spare Wilbur, and takes him as a pet. “She saves him and takes care of him for a while,” says Rumsey, who is in her fourth Youtheatre production. “Apparently she thought he was special from the very first day, that he was no ordinary pig.”
Fern and Wilbur also have to contend with Fern’s brother Avery (Nick Graber), “the mean kid.” “It was actually pretty hard for me to be mean,” says Graber. “I’m used to being randomly mean to my brother, but that’s easy. But someone else… it’s someone you don’t know and you don’t want to hurt them.”
When Wilbur grows bigger, he moves to the farm of Homer Zuckerman and his wife, Fern’s aunt and uncle. Wilbur slowly becomes a part of the farm community, striking up relationships with some of the other animals he meets, like Templeton (Duncan Smith) a rat who, as Smith says …”if you want him to do something, all you have to do is bribe him with food.”
There’s also the goose and the gander, played by Alaina Richert and Colby Shoup, respectively. “They’re both kind of stuck up,” Shoup says. “Yeah, the goose is very full of herself,” adds Richert. “She’s sort of the town busybody.”
Then there’s the cynical sheep, played by Sarah Gillie. “The sheep has seen it all before,” explains Gillie. “When Wilbur thinks he’s going to be made into bacon and is running around and freaking out, I don’t care. If he dies, it’s just what happens on the farm.”
Indeed, the Zuckerman farm is a farm, and pigs only spend so much time on a farm before… “As most people see it, (Homer) is the one who wants to kill little Wilbur,” says Andy Canaveral (Homer Zuckerman). “I don’t consider him a bad guy in any way, and I’m trying to not play him as the bad guy. He’s just a guy doing his job.”
Fortunately, Wilbur finds allies on the Zuckerman farm. Just like with Fern, Mrs. Zuckerman (Chelsea Kern) sees something special in Wilbur, much to the puzzlement of her husband. “Mrs. Zuckerman tends to pamper Wilbur a lot,” says Kern, who is studying to be an actor. “She gives him buttermilk baths and makes his fur all clean and shiny. She just likes how cute and fun he is, how he’s very outgoing and self-assured.”
And of course, there’s Charlotte, the spider who helps protect Wilbur. Kailee Blaettner describes Charlotte as a mother-figure to Wilbur. “She’s a really fun character to play,” Blaettner says. “She’s really sweet and caring. Wilbur needs a friend when he comes to the farm, and Charlotte is just there for him.”
The cast is a mix of Youtheatre veterans and a few newcomers, from Peter Rumsey (Wilbur), making his sixth appearance on the Youtheatre stage, to Alex Hockenberry (John Arabel) who decided to try out after performing in a production of I Never Saw Another Butterfly at his school. Andy Canaveral, who along with Chelsea Kern makes up the “older” portion of the cast (both have graduated high school), had parts in several Civic shows and Carroll High School plays before his first Youtheatre production in this year’s Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
And of course, a lot of the cast came out for the play because they were familiar with the book from school. “Our teacher read it to us in second grade,” says fourth-grader Joe Trentadue, who plays young Wilbur. “It’s a great story.”
Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents Charlotte’s Web
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturday, February 14 and Sunday February 15, at 2:00pm
Tickets: $12.00 adults; $8.00 students/child
Box Office opens Monday, February 9, noon – 4 pm.