Children fill the roles of pigs, rats and spiders this week in the kid's classic
by: Courtesy photo Templeton the Rat (Marlena Starrs, right) lets Wilbur 
(Aidan Van Dyke) in on his plans in Theatre in the Grove’s take on ‘Charlotte’s Web’ where kids take on the roles without the aid of anthropomorphic costumes.

Theatre in the Grove has gone to the barnyard. Empathetic spiders have taken the stage. A singing rat has snared the spotlight. A pig not only delivers impassioned dialogues on love and loss, he also reportedly can design extensive spider-silk murals.

This weekend, the Forest Grove theater company is offering up its take on E.B. White's enduring classic, 'Charlotte's Web,' the story of a young farm girl who saves her favorite pig from slaughter, only to dive into a world where animals not only talk, but also deliver enduring life lessons that have made the book one of the most-read pieces of American literature for children.

The show features a cast of 12 young performers taking on the roles of Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the spider, Templeton the rat, Fern the precocious girl and others.

Michelle Friend returns to the director's chair after last year's children's production of 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.'

Friend - who has enlisted Forest Grove High School senior Natasha Kujawa as her assistant - says she was excited to be presented with the opportunity to share White's tale with new audiences but was thrilled to discover many students already knew the characters by heart.

'I'm surprised with how many kids are familiar with it at such a young age,' says Friend, adding that more than 40 children auditioned for the show. 'Everybody seemed to be familiar with it.'

Unlike many takes on 'Charlotte's Web,' the Theatre in the Grove production has ditched the aesthetic choice of dressing performers as the animals they play, offering more human takes on the characters. For example, Wilbur the pig is played by youngster Aidan VanDyke in a bomber jacket emblazoned with the image of a flying pig. As a goose, Clare Hart is clad in a bonnet and apron evoking Mother Goose.

'We're not using furry critter costumes. We're allowing the children to use their imaginations. You won't see an eight-legged slinky spider, or a wooly little lamb,' says Friend.

The director says portraying the animals with more human characteristics helps bridge the gap between the whimsical fantasy and the heavier themes of the story, which touch on death as well as the importance of individualism.

'I think the kids can relate to the themes,' says Friend. '(The costumes) allow them to imagine more. It makes it more real.'

Show Times

What: 'Charlotte's Web'

When: Jan. 27-29, with showtimes at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove

Info or to buy tickets: Call 359-5349 or visit

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