ELLSWORTH — When the curtain opens in a theater, the possibilities are endless. The space becomes a place for both the actors and their audience to connect through laughter, tears, tenderness, excitement and other emotions evoked by the story.
There’s potential for all that to happen in The Grand’s production of E.B. White’s classic children’s book “Charlotte’s Web” at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Nov. 22-23. A matinee will be performed at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24.
The Grand’s Education Director and Ellsworth High School alum Georgia Zildjian is directing the production. The staging of “Charlotte’s Web” is an extension of the landmark theater’s Performing Arts for Children program, which offers after-school programs, summer theater camp and live performances.
Zildjian picked White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” about Wilbur, a sweet, but meek pig, his savior the spider Charlotte, friend Fern Arable and other characters, which was published in 1952. She sees the story as “an enduring classic in the literary scene, but it also is in many people’s hearts.”
Especially the many Mainers who grew up reading and appreciating White’s story written at his Brooklin farmhouse and drawn from the people he knew and observations of rural life in coastal Maine.
“It’s a story about friendship and about friendship between two beings that are not necessarily coming from the same background,” Zildjian said.
At a time when divisions run deep in the United States, the story’s underlying message can seem like it’s been forgotten in society.
“Right now, I think that’s something that we all really need to be paying attention to,” the director said. “Not only our young ones … but our older ones, too.”
“Charlotte’s Web” follows Wilbur, a barnyard pig destined to become Christmas dinner, and his friendship with Charlotte. The compassionate spider manages to change Wilbur’s fate by intricately weaving words in her web over the pigpen. Upon seeing “some pig” and “terrific” mysteriously spelled in the spider’s web, farmer Homer Zuckerman and others become convinced that Wilbur is a miracle pig who can spell and whose life must be spared.
Another EHS graduate, Callaghan Carter, is the play’s assistant director and also lends her acting chops as Fern, Goose and Spectator. Carter’s past theater credits include playing Tracy Turnblad in the EHS production of “Hairspray” and most recently Maud Dunlop in The Grand’s production of “The Music Man.”
The Ellsworth American’s own P.J. Keenan plays Charlotte and is the voice of Mrs. Arable. Winslow Hanson is cast as Wilbur while Deborah Ashmore has the role of Uncle Homer, Gander and Uncle the Pig. Kasey Jordan plays the rat Templeton, hired man Lurvy and Spectator and Mary Clark has the part of the Sheep, Carter the Reporter and President of the Blue Hill Fair.
While the actors range from youngsters to adults, Zildjian sees the play as an important space for the actors to come together to explore difficult topics, such as the loss of a loved one.
“Hard things happen to us at every age and I think that’s why this book is so special,” the director noted. “It helps you not feel so alone if you are experiencing something difficult.”
It is perhaps another reason why “Charlotte’s Web” has remained relevant for decades; it’s a delicate world created for readers both young and old to find shared understanding in timeless and poignant facts of life.
Tickets cost $12 per adult/senior and $8 for students. For more info, call 667-9500 and visit grandonline.org.