On the stage at JWMS: ‘Charlotte’s Web’

“Charlotte’s Web,” the story of Wilbur, a young, naïve pig who evades death with the help of a wise spider named Charlotte, is known as a childhood classic. But the sixth, seventh and eighth graders in John Witherspoon Middle School’s drama program are diving into their characters and proving not all children’s books are simple.

“It’s a great show. It’s a show that deals with friendship and the sacrifices that one friend makes for another,” said Ryan Spector, JW drama teacher of four years and co-director of this year’s fall play. “I tell the kids, they may think this is a child’s piece, but this has themes that carry weight with adults. It deals with death and rebirth. It’s not fluffy material.”

At first call of auditions, Spector noticed many of the young actors were reluctant about engaging in a show they felt was for young children, especially after last year’s fall drama, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” about the Holocaust.

“It was after the first reading that many of the kids noticed this is really an allegory for real issue and that it’s cool to bring these issues to life,” said Amy Troxel, choir director and “Charlotte’s Web” co-director.

“When I first started at JW, the school didn’t have a fall play, only a spring musical. The first one we did was two years ago and was really low budget. All the costumes were homemade. We started from nothing,” eighth-grader Hanako Moulton said. “Last year, when we did the show about the Holocaust, I saw the drama club grow up. Now, we have a beautiful set, rented costumes. We transformed something small to something massive. It’s great to see.”

Thomas Gatzke, eighth grade, plays Wilbur, and is enjoying taking on the role.

“For one thing, I get to be on stage a lot. I love getting to see everything come together,” he said. “It’s a fun role to paly – an innocent little pig who then transitions into someone who is mature and understands more about the world.”

Eabha Ni Lionaird, an eighth grader who moved from Ireland at the start of the school year, was cast in her first big role on stage as Charlotte.

“I’ve always liked the theater,” Ni Lionaird said. “I used to be in a drama club back in Ireland but I was the only girl. This is really exciting for me.”

Emma McMahon, also in eighth grade, began her theater involvement during summer camp at McCarter Theatre and has since then been in love. She plays Edith Zuckerman and, while her time on stage is limited, the comedy and “sass” she gets to create with her lines makes it a wonderful role.

“There is a lot of great chemistry on stage,” said Julio Troilo, who plays the farmhand, Lurvy, who first discovers the words in the web, “Some Pig.”

The production of JW’s “Charlotte’s Web” will be on stage Nov. 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and will be sold at the door.


About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida