Monday, January 20, 2014

Charlotte’s Web—OCT at Newmark—downtown Portland

A Network of Love
This timeless children’s tale by E. B. White and adapted by Joseph Robinette is produced by Oregon Children’s Theatre and performs at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway.  It is directed by Lava Alapai and plays through February 16th.  For more information go to or call 503-228-9571.

E. B. White, also the author of Stuart Little, is a wonderful at writing for the young, as he expounds on friendship, love, humaneness, and simplicity in telling his stories.  He also has a keen fondness for animals and gives them voice.  And, in this electronic world, which tends to de-emphasis human intimacy and proffers bullying and violence in youth, isn’t it nice to consider an Eden-like place where caring for the less fortunate, celebrating diversity and working together is the norm?!

Once upon a time…there was another Eden, called Zuckerman’s (Mark Steering and Victoria Blake) Farm.  On it was a caring girl name Fern (Maya Caulfield), who saved a runt piglet named Wilbur (Elisha Henig) from being killed.  Over time Wilbur (Jonathan Pen) grew up and made friends with his barnyard companions.  There were the noisy geese (Bobby Ryan and Sarah Jane Fridlich) and the lazy sheepish family (Orion Bradshaw and Victoria Blake), and even a devious rat named Templeton (Jake Wiest).

But his very special friend and protector was a lovely spider called Charlotte (Claire Aldridge).  She knew that he was being fattened only to be slaughtered someday.  So Charlotte devised a plan that would save him.  She wove words into her web that emphasized how special he was…words such as “some pig, terrific, radiant and humble.”  Once his owners saw how much attention they were getting for having such a famous pig, and the fact that he won a special blue ribbon at the County Fair, they spared his life.

But the ending would be bittersweet, as the laborious task of weaving the words in the web, and giving birth to the next generation of her children, took its toll on Charlotte.  She died for her friend but left a whole new generation to carrying on for her.  It is said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.  Amen.  This was a bit of a landmark story as that it broached the subject of death in a children’s tale, but it does it so simply and beautifully, that it affirms, perhaps, Life’s Purpose.

The entire cast was uniformly excellent (as they usually are in OCT’s shows).  Fridlich and Ryan are worth a gander as the gregarious geese and Bradshaw and Blake are winsome as the whining sheep.  Orion (co-founder of Post5 theatre is particularly good in the dual roles he plays, giving each character a professional, quick but unique twist.  He’s a hoot.   Wiest is terrific as the conniving rodent with a heart of gold.  And young Henig, in the brief role of as the baby Wilbur, shines in his moment, giving rise, hopefully, to bigger roles ahead.

Caulfield as Fern is believable as the concerned caretaker (perhaps a reflection of White himself).  She has a convincing stage presence that suggests a winning acting career if she wants it (a younger Maya is seen in a featured role in an Indie film Nightbumpers at  And Pen as the older Wilbur is a delight.  He easily commands the stage when he’s on and has a confidence as a young performer that will bode him well in the future.

But Aldridge, as Charlotte, is extraordinary.  Not only is she lovely, but the acrobatics she needs to perform when dealing with the web, are worth the show itself!  She is amazing and must have spent hours training for it.  And, add to that, she’s a very credible actress and I would hope to see her in more productions.

And Alapai shows a steady hand when dealing with this complex setting and cast.  She understands the story and allows a lot of humor to enhance the characters. The costumes, too, by Melissa Heller have the flash necessary to create the critters but enough simplicity that allows for easy movement and quick changes.  I would recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.


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