A Sweet 'Charlotte'


E.B. White's novel "Charlotte's Web," with its frank, empathy-stirring themes of friendship, sacrifice and death, is a perennial children's favorite, and as such it is treated with noteworthy respect by the Serendipity Theatre Co. in a modest, straightforward adaptation.

In Joseph Robinette's version, the play opens as a mother begins reading the book to her daughter while they take refuge from a sudden rainstorm in a barn.

While she reads, however, it is an old sheep (Julie Hern-Fondation), snuggled there with her lamb (McKenna Cole), who actually tells most of the tale. It seems she was an eyewitness to the whole thing, as a runty pig was saved first from the farmer's ax by a tender-hearted little girl named Fern (Emily Duncan) and later by a loyal little spider and the power of the written word.

Directed by Ken Realista, the adult and youth cast, while clearly at different levels of experience, bring the story to life with disarming sweetness. They are led by Katy Henk, the company's artistic director, gracefully portraying wise and loyal Charlotte, and Ross Strauss, who gives an endearing performance as lovable Wilbur the Pig, whose rosy view of the world is shaken when he learns his role in the food chain, but who puts faith in a friend to make things right.

Young actor Nic Cowan has a lively spark as farmhand Lurvy, as does the company's manager, Tony Sanders, in his comic turn as Templeton, the greedy rat.

At a recent performance, there was one major stumble that it is hoped has since been resolved: the pivotal scenes in which the words "some pig," "terrific," "radiant" and "humble" were to appear in Charlotte's web. Intended to be light projections against a wall, the words didn't always show up. One word didn't manifest at all; others were too faint to read easily. The moments were jarringly anticlimactic, as audience attention wandered away from the story to focus on what was missing.

The play's conclusion is nicely done, with the cast conveying real feeling for Charlotte's death and for the joyful renewal represented by her offspring.

The cave-like, small theater space--transformed into an extension of the atmospheric, detailed barn interior designed by Nathanial Parks--makes a cozy setting for the heartfelt tale.

* "Charlotte's Web," Burbank Little Theater, 1100 W. Clark Ave., Burbank, Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 1 p.m.; Sundays, 1 and 4 p.m. Ends April 12. $12; ages 17 and under, $6.(818) 557-0505. Running time: 90 minutes.

'Star' Brothers: In a gallery not so far, far away--namely, the Every Picture Tells a Story gallery--a galaxy of original "Star Wars" paintings and drawings by fantasy artists and twin brothers Greg and Tim Hildebrandt will be on display beginning Saturday.

"Star Wars: The Art of the Brothers Hildebrandt," including Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, C3PO, R2-D2 and the rest of the interstellar cast, launches Saturday with a gala reception open to the public. Greg Hildebrandt will be on hand for a signing, and the event will include a special exhibition of "Star Wars" memorabilia.

The exhibition will also feature other works spanning the Hildebrandts' career, which has included vivid illustrations for such classics as "Robin Hood," "Dracula" and "The Arabian Nights." The pair's "Star Wars" paintings, used in a number of multimedia projects, were based on movie props, models and costumes from the Lucasfilm Archive; it was the Hildebrandts, too, who painted the memorable original "Star Wars" movie poster that fired imaginations 20 years ago.

* "Star Wars: The Art of the Brothers Hildebrandt," Every Picture Tells a Story, 7525 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, gala reception, Saturday, 5 to 8 p.m.; exhibition, Saturday through April 16. Gallery hours: Mondays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. (213) 932-6070.

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