Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 9:02 a.m.
Joanna Harmon as Charlotte.
Photo by Dan Norman
Greg Banks has found a home at the Children's Theatre Company. The English director has crafted a string of some of the best work at the venerable institution over the past few years.
His winning streak continues with this adaptation of E.B. White's classic about the unlikely friendship between a young runt pig and his best friend, a big-hearted spider who plots and weaves to save his life.
Each of the actors fully inhabits the animals they portray, from Reed Sigmund's crusty Templeton the rat to Audrey Anderson and Kory Laquess Pullam's strutting goose and gander. At the center of it, of course, are Wilbur and Charlotte.
Young Ethan Davenport is delightful as the innocent pig as he learns about his world, engages with the danger to his life, and eventually faces the loss of his best friend. His fresh eyes bring even the most mundane parts of his life -- from the morning slop that fills his trough to the smell of hay and the other animals -- to bright and brilliant life.
Joanna Harmon spends the entire show on a flying rig, which allows her (and the offstage controllers) to bring out the full spider in her performance. Beyond that, she becomes mentor, mother, and friend to Wilbur, eventually sacrificing her strength to make sure the young pig will see another spring.
That relationship is the real engine of the play, giving us a framework to follow the emotional journey that Wilbur takes while making time for some fun hijinks along the way, with Dean Holt stealing the show as the bodybuilder-esqe Uncle, the main rival to Wilbur at the county fair.
The production also nicely evokes the rhythms and joys of small-town life, such as having a local reporter come out to cover a miraculous pig (as a former small-town reporter, I can attest that this would have likely been the most exciting assignment of the week).
All of this is done without ever sugarcoating the story's tender and sad heart, which can make the hardest of critical hearts go misty-eyed.
IF YOU GO:
Through Oct. 17
Children's Theatre Company
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 612.874.0400 or visit online.