The Neverending Story
The power of imagination overflows the Todd Wehr Theater when The Neverending Story arrived this weekend courtesy of First Stage Children’s Theater. The production crosses elements of fairy tale and science fiction while the story revolves around saving the land of Fantastica, which requires a chosen hero to be sent on a quest for the cure. The familiar novel by Michael Ende was adapted for the theater by David S. Craig and will recall for audience members several favorite movies, including one in 1984 directed by Wolfgang Peterson.
Yet on this stage imagination demonstrates its power through every aspect of the production’s technical collaboration: scenic designer David Minkoff’s Zen-like circular steel stage with floor to ceiling silky curtains allows the audience to sink into Fantastica’s surreal nothingness with the cast. Lighting Designer Keith Parham creates larger than life creatures by shadowing the actors with white light against the black backdrop. Puppeteer/Props director Mark Hare together with costume designer Debbie Baer fashion mythical figures from the novel, both monstrous and miniature, with delight.
All these technical supports give credence to Bastian’s fantasy that when reading, the mind transcends everyday life and sorrows. Bastian is struggling with the death of his mother, and Bastian’s alter ego, Atreyu, battles for the Child-Empress’s life to save Fantastica as Bastian battles real life bullies at school. The contrasting comedy and tragedy of the journey, including several incidents tinged with fright, sustain the tension to Atreyu’s great quest that Bastian eventually enters.
Every adult actor expertly conveys several characters without a slip that adds to the performance’s seamless flow, which Director Jeff Frank moves at a pace with a clear crescendo. In the “Adventure Cast” for opening weekend, Mack Folkert imbues Atreyu with youthful wit and growing wisdom. Thomas Mazza captures Bastian visually as emotionally the lost boy gains confidence. While the production is recommended for children over six, adults will be attracted to the performance and ingenious theater elements, which portrays this magical world that emphasizes the pleasures of reading. Perhaps everyone will find appreciation for gnome Urgl’s remark, “Humans: most of all their youth have the power to see the truth.”
What truth needs to be seen? That creativity inspires the answers to real life obstacles through wishing, dreams, fantasy, inventing and imagining, all acts of creating. Who first imagined the ipod, iphone or blackberry, this advanced means to communicate? Certainly never Franklin, Edison or Bell dreamed their now crude predecessors would reach such technological heights that might also detract from this formidable creative power. The enchanting production reminds the audience these key issues deserve consideration, because when each individual forgets to wish or imagine society will be swallowed by an empty void of reality, perhaps unable to find solutions to its burgeoning problems. This truth inhabits the extraordinary story of Bastian and Atreyu that First Stage retells, but also implies the 21st century’s neverending story.
Complete schedule and tickets for this performance are available at Footlights online.