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By BECCA OWSLEY
ELIZABETHTOWN — A patchwork quilt curtain opens to a barnyard set as the countryside comes to life in Hardin County Playhouse’s performance of “Charlotte’s Web.”
A tale of friendship and love is spun on Zuckerman’s farm as the young girl, Fern, takes Wilber into her heart and Charlotte the Spider helps him realize he is “some pig.”
Arachnophobics will be glad to know that while actors are playing animals and spiders, their costumes will have a humanistic look. Charlotte, while a spider, won’t exactly look like a spider.
The cast is trusting the audience to let their imaginations go and see the animals by how they portray them instead of how they appear. In other words, the actors are humans playing animals as humans who are actually animals.
The extent to which to take the fantastical aspect of the play posed the biggest challenge for director Bo Cecil.
Actors will dress in human clothing appropriate to the animal or character being portrayed, Cecil said.
As complicated as that seems, the actors have realized the human qualities in their characters and have found the process easier than they first thought.
Ernest Holt plays the sheep. He said he thinks it is important to keep the sheep persona when human characters are on stage, returning to a more “animal” state when they are around. A characterization similar to “Animal Farm” only there is no attempt by the animals to take over the farm, just an attempt to save Wilber.
Templeton, the word fetcher, is probably the most misunderstood person in the play. He is a rat with poor social skills, but turns out to be very handy in the quest to save Wilber from becoming bacon.
Ian Renwick plays Templeton. He found it hard to realize that, although he is a grown man playing a rat, he would have to play him smaller to get the idea across. For instance, at times when he needs to hide, he struggles to find a spot large enough to hide behind. But for a rat, the task would be very simple. Renwick had to learn to just duck behind something and make it look easy.
Since it is difficult to just hang out and watch a rat for inspiration, Renwick has watched two film adaptations of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Ratatouille.”
Wilber is played by 11-year-old Christopher Narmi, who said he was glad he didn’t have to dress in a pig costume.
“I haven’t really played a regular barnyard animal,” Narmi said. He did play the white rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” but doesn’t consider that the same thing.
To Narmi, Wilber is naive, which is a trait he had a hard time mastering.
In the end Wilber has an epiphany, “a good life is better than a long life,” Narmi said.
Although Charlotte is a spider, she carries warmth and maternal compassion in the play.
“She’s a very hard character to play because I have to be a spider and very cold and portray that I’m not the nicest creature in the animal kingdom, but I have compassion,” said Erica Perkins, who plays Charlotte.
The character brings out a lot of different things in Perkins’ acting timbre – she’s excitable, happy and she has her down moments, Perkins said. At one moment in the play, Charlotte has a very serious talk with Wilber about life and death and that she’s going to die. Perkins tries to portray this with as much peace as she can.
While the more cuddly animals in the play just accept Wilber’s predicament as fact, the more unlikely characters — the spider and rat — are the ones that actually help him.
“It goes to prove that you can’t choose your friends based on what the popular decision is or what social acceptance is no matter what,” Perkins said. “Everybody is themselves and you should treat them with utmost respect until you find out what kind of person that is.”
While the stage is filled mostly with actors in the complicated roles of portraying animals, there are a few humans in the barnyard. Primarily there is Fern, the young girl who saved Wilber, the runt, in the beginning.
The part of Fern is shared by two girls — Rachel Mobley, 11, and Clara Wilson, 10. Both enjoy playing Fern, finding many likenesses with the character, and were thrilled to share the part.
They like the freedom this production gives them to take risks and express themselves through acting.
While Wilson said she wasn’t sure if she would hang out with a real pig like Fern does, Mobley said she would definitely do so.
“I love pigs, they’re so cute,” Mobley said.
Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741.