It's not easy coming up with a new twist on a beloved classic especially a beloved children's classic such as E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web", but that's just what writer and director Brendan Mack and the folks at STAGEright have done with their current production of "Web". And while I felt the play could do with some editing and the production lacked a bit of focus at times, ultimately the show comes across as a fascinating reimagining and expansion of a tale of unconditional love.
At the top of the show we encounter Fern, the little girl who once cared for the runt pig Wilbur, now an adult and on trial for the death of her infant son. But as Fern professes her innocence we wonder how we can believe a girl who believes she once was able to speak with a barnyard full of animals. Even as the stories unfold and testimony is offered at the trial, Fern seems preoccupied with visions and flashbacks of her days on the Zuckerman farm. And as we revisit these familiar characters we learn new facts surrounding those days and realize that the characters from the barnyard mirror the people in Fern's life today. All of these elements lead up to one big question, "could a sweet natured girl grow up into a Mother who would kill her own child?"
While this may sound like a tough sell for a retelling of such a well known and loved children's classic, Mack and the cast and crew almost completely make the premise work and work quite well. Nicole Merat turns in a beautifully haunting rendition of the kind hearted yet broken Fern. She manages all at once to have the audience care for her and at the same time be a little scared for how delusional she may be. Paul Hobson is completely lovable as Will, the lawyer trying to help Fern and Wilbur, the pig she's trying to help. He gives a sweet and introspective performance although at times a bit too introspective as he was tough to hear. Andi Norris as the titular Charlotte is loving and kind as both the spider and the judge as she scales to the heights of the set. She definitely has the authority (and it's almost frightening how much she resembles the spider from the cartoon) but I felt could have used more of the confidence. Derek Petropolis was deliciously devious as the sneaky rat Templeton as well as the despicable Prosecutor F.J. Cozy Josephson is hilarious and spot on as both Lucy Fowler and the nosy and triple affected goose. And Ashley Flannegan and Libby Barnard each turn in some heart wrenching moments as Fern's Mother June and Sister Avery respectively. A great all around ensemble cast in a difficult piece. I just felt that they needed a little more time to cook as at times they seemed unsure of what they were trying to convey.
Truly a stunner of a piece with a ton of potential. It just needs some fine tuning especially as it seemed to end a few times over. But really, as the goose might say, "Terrific, terrific, terrific!"
"Web" from STAGEright plays at Freehold Theatre through March 10th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlestageright.org.
Photo credit: John Huddlestun