Humans are a bunch of clumsy squares in “Charlotte’s Web,” which is enjoying its first Children’s Theatre production. As they go about their boring business, they are clueless about the intelligent lives of their animals.
Meanwhile, the critters in the show, from the spelunking title spider (played elegantly by Joanna Harmon) to an oversized, over-the-top rat named Templeton (irrepressible Reed Sigmund), are having their own ball. They also have emotional lives marked by feelings of affection and loss.
Those are the big take-aways from Greg Banks’ charming production of the E.B. White classic, which opened over the weekend. The humans in the show include the owners of little Wilbur (Ethan Davenport), the runt of the pig litter who was destined to become bacon.
After he is saved by Fern (Emma Thvedt), a farmer’s daughter with a heart of gold, Wilbur thinks he’s out of the woods. But the other animals know just why the humans are fattening up the pig. Charlotte, the arachnid, hatches a plan to help the piglet, even as a loop is closing on her own life.
The animal antics, including comic sheep and honking geese, are perhaps the most humorous and memorable parts of “Charlotte’s Web,” which was adapted by Joseph Robinette. The nearly two-hour production, which takes place in Joseph Stanley’s huge barn with exposed plank boards, is sort of old-fashioned. It relies on understated storytelling to make its point, not the frantic, whiz-bang delivery that has come to dominate programming for youngsters, particularly on TV.
The closest we get to anything along those lines in “Charlotte’s Web” is Sigmund’s Templeton, a character whose gestures and utterances are delivered with gusto. From his surprising entrance to his leaping exit, Sigmund is a show-stealer, but of the most enjoyable kind.
The other animals in Wilbur’s world include a perky Goose (Audrey Anderson) and Gander (Kory LaQuess Pullam). Dean Holt and Lauren Davis play Fern’s fussy parents, and they are double cast, respectively, as a steroidal pig and a prancing ewe.
The cast also includes the reliably strong Gerald Drake and CTC newcomer Sara Richardson as human characters.
Director Banks is known for elemental productions, including promenade-style ones such as “Romeo and Juliet” and “Antigone.” “Charlotte’s Web” is comparatively stationary. But the show is well worth seeing.
It has heart and touching humanity courtesy of some fun and interesting farm animals.