Every year Seattle Children’s Theatre presents a holiday play that follows a predictable course: An ordinary boy or girl is immersed in an imaginary world, in which good and evil come to the fore. Overcoming the perils of darkness, he or she saves the day, thanks to bravery, cunning and the help of others.
“The Neverending Story,” David Craig’s stage adaptation of Michael Ende’s popular novel, follows the formula. However, it rises to a higher level, educating and entertaining while telling the story of a bookish boy who becomes a hero. Judging from the positive audience reaction at last weekend’s opening performance, the play worked its magic, entertaining young and old alike.
The acting was phenomenal. Cast members played multiple roles with energy and panache, often using puppets to play the creatures of the imaginary world of Fantastica. Lavish storybook costumes by Catherine Hunt wonderfully transformed actors into a dragon, a werewolf, a horse and a troll. In the palace, her regal costumes were befitting of a monarch.
The story begins with 10-year-old Bastion, exceptionally played by Gabriel Baron. Two difficulties plague him: schoolyard bullies and grief at having recently lost his mother. The last thing he wants to do is go to school. In a bookstore he procures an amazing book and finds refuge in its pages. Bastion sits perched in the attic above the janitor’s closet for most of the play, watching the story unfold.
Fantastica is in grave danger. Everything and everyone is being swallowed up by the Nothing, an invisible evil presence. The Childlike Princess who rules the land is dying, another result of the Nothing’s evil power. She is convinced that somewhere in the realm of Fantastica a cure exists, to be discovered by a hero.
Enter Atreyu, well played by Michael Place. Like David in the biblical account, Atreyu is young and inexperienced. Like David, he is brave. He accepts the Princess’ quest and proceeds to scour the various regions of Fantastica, meeting creatures who give him hints at how to find a cure for the country’s peril.
Perhaps the play’s strongest element is the warm friendships between Atreyu and his horse Artax, who dies in the Swamps of Sadness, and later, between Atreyu and the dragon Falkor. Look for Falkor’s flight scene, well orchestrated by the SCT stage crew.
Eventually, Atreyu and Falkor end up at the Southern Oracle, where Atreyu discovers that the only way to save the nation lies in the hands of a human boy. Bastion comes to the rescue, and the story ends happily.
Kudos to Carey Wong’s simple yet striking sets, which took theatergoers from the home, to the schoolyard and to the various regions of Fantastica. All in all, a well-done play.