In the world of children's fiction, few characters are more well known than Charlotte, a magnanimous spider who saves her friend with a weave of a web in E.E. White's "Charlotte's Web."
Although Charlotte displays all of the attributes of a heroine, a spider is a rather dubious choice for the part, especially for 17-year-old arachnophobe Macy Hernandez of Bartlett, who portrays Charlotte in the South Elgin High School production.
Despite the generally understandable prejudice, Hernandez has very warm feelings for the story.
"It was my favorite story when I was growing up," she said.
Charlotte's ultra feminine demeanor is a nice change of pace for Hernandez who, despite her very feminine appearance, has been cast otherwise.
"I've always played a man or an animal," said Hernandez, with a shrug.
Despite the welcome change of pace, Hernandez was in a bit of a dilemma concerning how to portray an eight-legged bug. Finally, she went for a not-so-obvious inspiration: Audrey Hepburn. "I thought of Charlotte as very feminine and very elegant and she (Hepburn) was very elegant and smooth in the way she moved."
For the few uninitiated, "Charlotte's Web" tells the story of a farmyard and it varied its inhabitants. Most of the animals are jaded and cynical, with good reason considering the attitude of most of the human inhabitants.
When a young and naive pig named Wilbur comes to live in the farmyard, his innocence is eventually shattered by the realization that he's being bred for consumption. It takes the generosity of a little spider to save the pig, despite the cost to herself.
Director Holly McNeill chose "Charlotte's Web" for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the adaptation was written by Joe Robinette, a former professor of hers when she attended Glassboro State College.
"It was presented as summer stock in my senior year and all my friends were in it, so it has some sentimental feeling," she said.
Aside from that personal note, McNeill has a soft spot in her heart for the story.
"I love this story about friendship and how Charlotte puts herself on the line and sacrifices for her friend," she said. "Think about how many friends who would really do that for you. It's a wonderful lesson for teenagers and children."
Tom Lagambina, 16, of Bartlett who plays Wilbur, appreciates the underlying message of the story.
"I like the message. Life is short and you need to live it happily and don't just care about yourself, there's other people out there," he said.
When Lagambina heard the fall play was to be "Charlotte's Web," he researched the part by viewing the animated musical on DVD and was happy and surprised when he got the part, but a little puzzled as to how to portray a pig, especially one as talented as Wilbur.
"I had to work on my somersaults," said Lagambina, who has been acting since grade school. "And I've been working on my split. It's in the script."
It's a bit of a dangerous irony for a guy who gave up football to act.
Ricky Lopez, 16, of South Elgin grew up watching the movie Lagambina rented for inspiration. He plays the most cynical and self-involved of all the animals - Templeton, the rat.
"He's so sarcastic," said Lopez. "It's so funny to watch how he acts with everyone. It's so much fun."
Although theater can be fun, a lot of hard behind the scenes work goes into every production, according to McNeill. "The Technical Theater class that I teach has built the entire set," she said. "Every piece of it has been built by a student. They've painted, they've built props, they've found sound effects and that's been really fun, as the director, to be involved in every aspect."
When it came to the actor's transformation into the stories characters, McNeill turned to parent volunteer Mary Crum, who has worked on previous productions at South Elgin High School.
Although she has no children in this particular play Crum rolled up her sleeves and got to work making, dogs, cats, chickens, geese and of course pigs and spiders out of the young actors. Her sewing skills are helpful, but it's her imagination that brings the barnyard to life.
"I just dug around to see what we have," she said. "And I did a lot of late night praying for inspiration. But be careful what you pray for because it ends up in an all-nighter."
Her Charlotte is a purple creature with pearls and her barnyard birds are a mix of feathers and fussy fashion. But the four chorus members who play a poodle, a fox a cat and a chicken were a bit of a challenge, she admitted. Crum started with plastic noses and built the rest from scraps of fur, curly wigs and pearls from her sister's wedding gown.
As a result, Allie Frascone, 14, Jennifer Nguye, 15, Colleen Buss, 15 and Asra Bhorajiwala, 17, all from Bartlett make a very convincing farmyard menagerie.
While working with the barnyard of four-legged and feathered friends, McNeill was reminded that many animals were living in shelters, hoping for a home. She decided to lend a hand by helping out the Anderson Animal Shelter in South Elgin.
Every person who brings an item from the Anderson Animal Wish list will receive $1 off the price of admission.
Among the items that the animals at Anderson Animal Shelter are hoping for are: paper towels; blankets and towels; liquid laundry soap; Fabuloso floor cleaner; Hill's Science Diet pet food, dry or canned; dog toys, especially XL rawhides, XL Nylabones and XL Kongs; cat toys; kitty litter, non-scoopable; hard-shell pet carriers; bleach; pet beds; dryer sheets, cat scratching posts; pet nail trimmers; electric heating pads; and aluminum cans to recycle.
Not only will the audience come away with a warm memory of "Charlotte's Web," but the good feeling of helping an animal in need.
If you go
What: "Charlotte's Web"
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7 and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8
Where: South Elgin High School Auditorium, 760 E Main St., South Elgin
Tickets: $8 for adults; $6 for students and seniors; available at the door. You can get $1 off admission with a contribution to the Anderson Animal Shelter's wish list.
'Charlotte's Web' cast
Bartlett: Chelsea Baker, Brian Batt, Rebecca Brunner, Colleen Buss, Christina Casa, Megan Clark, Asra Dhorajiwala, Allie Frascone, Danny Granzow, Macymarie Hernandez, Jenna Jensen, Jillian Konopa, Thomas LaGambina, Amanda Little, Andrew Little, Jennifer Nsyuen, Jennifer Oswald, Melinda Potter, Betsy Probst, Anna Roth, Kristy Saylor, Adeline Teevans.
Elgin: Samantha Costello, Katie Cummins, Cody Diaz, Mikey Escalante, Eden Hagos, Becky Kozuch, Ricky Lopez, Sarah Luithle, Katie Pienkowski, Paula Smiech, Jessalyn Solorzano.
South Elgin: Michelle Bautista, Melanie Forsberg, Itzel Gomez, Taylor Isham, Caleb Noffsinger, Aida Palma, Regina Reyes, Ashlee Thiede.