It's unlikely that E.B. White had a 5-foot, 4-inch brunette in mind when he created a spider named Charlotte A. Cavatica in his book "Charlotte's Web" in 1952. If he had seen Charlotte performed last weekend by Kari Geller at the Laguna Playhouse, however, it's unlikely he would have objected.
Geller's is only one of many strong performances in the Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre's production of White's sunny tale of the spider who befriends a lonely little pig named Wilbur. Wilbur is played engagingly by Duffy Lucas; Fern, the farm girl who loves the friendless pig, is played with charm by Holly Egan.
Of the barnyard beasts, the goslings (played by Jennifer Cohen, Rebekah Baker and Jillian Longnecker, who later portray Charlotte's offspring), the sheep (played by Denise O'Sullivan), and the goose and the gander (played by Brigitte Paulicivic and Ryan Baron) were terrific. And rivaling Charlotte's performance as best of show was Garret Savage playing Templeton, the opportunistic and slothful rat.
Of the adults, Homer and Edith Zuckerman (performed by Bob Snook and Kimberly Peterson) sounded like they sauntered right out of a Kansas cornfield.
"Charlotte's Web" is an affectionate story, set in the rural Midwest of the '50s, about the hardships of growing up. It's a good story for all ages over 3; although co-director Judy Davidson says the show is aimed primarily at children over 7, there's enough magic and excitement in this production to quiet the most fidgety 4-year-old.
It captures the feel of small-town America, with its country fair, fireworks and the assorted activities swirling around the family farm. The sets (by Ellis Pryce-Jones) are evocative and the lighting (by Stephen Shaffer, who also did the sound) is enchanting: Pale blue tones denote early morning, and nighttime seems to twinkle in the barn.
But it's the "animals" who steal the show. The sheep actually "bahs" her lines. The goose, gander and goslings sound as you might expect geese to sound if they spoke English: "It's a regular conspiiiiiiracy," one honks. Charlotte crawls like a spider should. And Templeton is appropriately smarmy.
Other bright spots include Aly Panichi as the farm woman who announces Wilbur's success at the fair ("Yessiree-bob, this is some pig!") and the three baby spiders who close the play.
'CHARLOTTE'S WEB' A Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre production of E.B. White's book, "Charlotte's Web," adapted by playwright Joseph Robinette. Directed by Scott and Judy Davidson. With Kari Geller, Duffy Lucas, Holly Egan, Rob Wood, Lisa Hale, John Backman, Bob Snook, Kimberly Peterson, Peter Kreder, Garret Savage, Denise O'Sullivan, Jennifer Buck, Ryan Baron, Brigitte Paulicivic, Rebekah Baker, Jennifer Cohen, Jillian Longnecker, Alexandra Jaich, Andy Kiehl, Sarah Golden, Aly Panichi, Justin Wimpress and Tamara Holt. Set design by Ellis Pryce-Jones. Lighting and sound by Stephen Shaffer. Plays 7 p.m. tonight; at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday2; and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Closes Dec. 13. Tickets $3 for children; $5 for adults. Laguna Moulton Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. (714) 494-0743 or 494-8021.