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THEATER REVIEW: SCR spins splendid 'Web'

By Tom Titus
Daily Pilot
February 13, 2008

Playgoers who check out the latest Theater for Young Audiences production at South Coast Repertory may be forgiven if they lose their taste for bacon or think better of squashing spiders, at least in the near future.

The attraction is "Charlotte's Web," a stage version of the E.B. White children's story adapted by Joseph Robinette. It's a delightful barnyard saga that gives most of its cast members a chance to display their versatility.

Though long a favorite with young readers, "Charlotte's Web" really hasn't seen the light of day on a local stage for many years. And more's the pity, since while the story is quite familiar, retelling it as live theater only enhances its charm.

Director Shelley Butler has given her imagination free reign - enthusiastically supported by set designer Sibyl Wickersheimer and costumer Paloma H. Young.

Youngsters are fully aware that these animals are human underneath, but that just adds to the enjoyment and the appreciation.

The story revolves around Wilbur, a runt piglet rescued from the ax by the farmer's young daughter and raised with an eye toward not being transformed into pork chops or ham hocks. He's assisted in this regard by Charlotte, a charitable spider who spins messages such as "Some Pig" in her web to bolster Wilbur's uniqueness.

SCR's six-member cast tackles this heartwarming story with gusto, with actors playing up to five different characters.

Only Guilford Adams as the porcine central figure retains his individual character - and beautifully, drawing instant rapport from the young playgoers for his lovable naivete.

Pamela Shaddock enacts Charlotte, as well as the offstage voice of one of her progeny. Shaddock blends wisdom and warmth into a splendid performance.

As the little girl who saves and nurtures Wilbur, Jennifer Chang is cuteness personified, and she displays her comic chops when doubling as a talkative goose with a habit of repeating her words three times.

The juicy role of Templeton, the rat, is gnawed greedily by Sol Castillo - whom SCR audiences will remember from his scene-stealing work in "La Posada Magica" over the years.

Preston Maybank adds a decidedly rural tough as farmer Avery, while doubling as a gabby gander.

The cast workhorse is Diana Burbano, playing five characters - including a boor of a boar out to capture the blue ribbon at the county fair.

"Charlotte's Web" is one of the better children's stories, and SCR's Theater for Young Audiences has fashioned a richly moving stage production.

WHAT:"Charlotte's Web"
WHO:Theater For Young Audiences
WHERE:South Coast Repertory Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
CALL:(714) 708-5555

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot. His reviews appear Thursdays.

©2007 Guilford Adams. All rights reserved.