- The Neverending Story
- Based on the novel by Michael Ende . Adapted by David S. Craig
- Directed by Janet Stanford
- Produced by Imagination Stage
- Reviewed by Ted Ying
Only a human child can save the land of Fantastica. Such stuff as dreams are made on-or at least children’s fantasy. The Neverending Story is such a fantasy, brought to life by Imagination Stage. Like the 1984 movie of the same title, this play is adapted from the first half of Michael Ende’s original story.
Bastian Balthazar Bux (Michael Nguyen-Mason), grieving the loss of his mother, runs into a bookstore to escape the clutches of school bullies. The book curator interests young Bastian in a particular book and turns his back to answer the phone. Bastian “borrows” the book and runs off to school and hides in the attic to avoid being punished for being late. He quickly becomes engrossed in “The Neverending Story”. The magical land of Fantastica is being devoured by The Nothing. The Childlike Empress (Mollie Clement) is dying and none of the doctors can cure her. The enigmatic Cairon (Carl Randolph) summons the boy hero Atreyu (2007 Helen Haye’s nominee, Andrew Sonntag) to go on a quest to save the queen. Atreyu and his bonded horse Artax (Max Lawrence) journey to the far corners of Fantastica from the Swamp of Sadness, to the cave of a giant spider to the Oracle of the Southern Mountains. After the loss of Artax, Atreyu is saved by Falkor, the luck dragon (Michael John Casey), who helps him to find the answer he seeks and return to the Empress in the Ivory Tower. But ultimately, Atreyu needs the help of young Bastian himself who must enter the pages of the story to save the day. The ensemble of Clement, Randolph, Julie Garner, Mark R. Ross and Anu Yadav play most of the magical creatures and characters with a variety of costumes and puppets large and small.
This is a good children’s production with a fast-paced plot and plenty of action. However, in trying to be true to the original story and keep the play under 90 minutes, it breezes through some scenes a little too quickly. To fit so much material in, many of the scenes are cut so short that they end up confusing instead of telling the story. Children will be captivated by its many charming and entertaining creatures, but adults may be confused why the Sassafranians, who are born old and youthen, wander through the story. Or why Atreyu’s pondering the stars and sand solves the Sphinx’s riddle to pass the maze of the Southern Oracle. However, the story rushes along and each new scene is filled with more melodramatic characters, charming puppets and action-adventure.
The production does show some promise, but there are still some rough edges that hopefully can be smoothed over as the run progresses. For instance, the troll that had lost its legs to The Nothing needed a longer covering to better hide the actor’s feet and the skateboard that he rode on and off the stage. The Nothing was interestingly portrayed as large dark gray amorphous blobs that could expand and consume characters. But sometimes instead of The Nothing oozing out of the trapdoors in the floor, actors portraying the blob would reach out onto the stage to grasp the amorphous blob which destroyed the illusion.
Visually the show succeeds. Scenic designer Dan Conway’s set is very impressive with a dazzling star design taking up the small stage and a spiral stair and catwalk adding a useful second level. A scrim effectively enhances the show by adding projections including the imposing maze of the Southern Oracle. Kathleen Geldard’s costumes and Eric Van Wyk’s puppets heighten the fantasy. The giant turtle Morla and the menacing spider are wonderful additions to the story. Jason Arnold’s lighting and Deborah Wheatley’s projections artfully set the atmosphere.
This show is a good production for children and those who may want to revisit Fantastica like the Never Land of their youth. This script lets the younger audience members see themselves stepping into the protagonist’s role as the boy who saves the day. The children in our audience were enthralled and completely entertained.
Imagination Stage ushers another generation into Fantastica.
Running Time 1:40 including one 15-minute intermission
When: Through August 10. Tue-Fri 10:30 AM, Sat 12:30, 3:30 & 7:00 PM, Sun 12:30 & 3:30 PM. Additionally Thu July 24, 31 & August 7 1:30 & 7:00 PM
Where: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave, Bethesda, MD
Tickets: $10-$20 (group rate of $11 with 10 or more)
More Information: 301-280-1660 or www.imaginationstage.org