DOVER — Geese, sheep, girls in gingham dresses, baby spiders and a wide-eyes pig were among the characters chatting at the Children’s Theatre Inc., rehearsal space in Dover Tuesday evening.
The play “Charlotte’s Web,” adapted by Joseph Robinette from the book by E. B. White, is an enduring classic about a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte.
The Children’s Theatre production, set mid-century in the American heartland, opens next week at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover.
“It’s got country charm and it’s something for everybody. It’s adventure, it’s friendship,” said student director Teresa Pierce.
For co-director Pam Johnson, and so many others, the book was a favorite growing up.
“It’s just so heartwarming,” Ms. Johnson said.
When she directed the show five years ago, she said, tickets sold out. Now, The Children’s Theatre is bringing it back for the its special 20th season.
All the plays for the company’s season were voted on by the audience, said co-director Terry Price.
“It took a village to make this performance happen,” Ms. Price said.
“There are many people behind the scenes who did a lot of work.”
“Charlotte’s Web” touches upon some serious life lessons that teach children about life and death, but it also shows the importance of friendship, bravery and simple acts of kindness.
The heartfelt story also includes colorful barnyard characters and its share of comical moments.
In her first role, Emma Young, 12, plays Templeton, a caustic rat who “doesn’t care about a lot of things except himself or food,” she said.
And Emma Knapp, 11, plays a blunt old sheep.
“We put so much hard work into it,” she said.
“It’s going to be a really good play and we have really good actors ... It’s sort of funny and it’s a fun play to be in.”
The 31-member cast includes all ages, from 8 to 18.
“It’s such a diversity of age. Everyone’s coming together, and everyone’s a family,” said Jazsmin Johnson, 16, who plays Wilbur.
“And that’s what ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is about. It’s about a family. That’s what I like about it the most.”
She said when she first read for Wilbur in the audition, she immediately connected with the character.
When she heard she got the part, “it was probably the most ecstatic thing.”
“I was extremely excited. I can get so into character with him, because he’s kind of childish,” Jazsmin said.
“He’s a little pig. He’s bouncy and sprightly. It’s really fun.”
In the story, a little girl named Fern, played by Sarah Finney, saves the newborn runt from slaughter — “This is the most terrible piece of injustice I have ever heard of,” she protests.
When he matures, Wilbur is sold to her uncle Homer. The lonely pig meets Charlotte in the barn there.
“I’ll be a friend to you,” the wise spider says. “I watched you all night, and I like you.”
When they learn the humans are thinking of turning him into bacon, Charlotte makes a plan to save him, weaving words of praise about the pig into her web and turning him into a local celebrity.
For little ones, “Charlotte’s Web” is a sweet story that makes a great first show, Ms. Young said.
But with complex characters and deep-rooted themes, the timeless play is sure to appeal to all ages.
“From 3 to 93, everyone will like ‘Charlotte’s Web,’” Ms. Young said.
Performances are March 28 at 7 p.m. and March 29 at 2 p.m. at the Schwartz Center for the Arts, 226 S. State St., Dover.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children.
For more information or to reserve tickets, call the box office Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 678-5152 or visit www.schwartzcenter.com.