Dalal Badr (left) and Richard Lee provide Neverending fun.
THE NEVERENDING STORY written and directed by David Craig (Roseneath/Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front East). To March 17, Saturday-Sunday 2 pm, March 12-15 at 11 am and 2 pm, March 16 at 2 pm. $10-$20. 416-862-2222. See listing. Rating: NNNN
If you want to show children that books can be magical, taken them to see The Neverending Story, David Craig's adaptation of Michael Ende's family classic.
Set in the imaginary land of Fantastica, a world of stories, and also in our own world, it brings together Atreyu, a young hero from Fantastica, and Bastian, a human boy who becomes inextricably connected to Fantastica. It's a rich, involving narrative that some know from the 1984 film version.
The Roseneath Theatre production, presented by Young People's Theatre, goes straight to the heart of the tale's enchantment while also acknowledging the easily identifiable side of Bastian's life: his sadness over his mother's death, the bullies who scare him at school, his desire to escape from an unhappy life.
Finding a copy of a book called The Neverending Story, he starts to read about Atreyu's quest to save Fantastica from the Nothing, a blackness growing his world. Increasingly drawn into the story, Bastian eventually helps Atreyu fulfill his mission, despite the efforts of the villainous werewolf Gmork, who exists in both worlds.
Director Craig has assembled an inventive cast, most playing multiple roles, to help conjure the magic of the story. Adamo Ruggiero and a cross-dressing Natasha Greenblatt made good foils as Atreyu and Bastian, the latter first doubting the story's reality and later accepting his part in it.
Richard Lee exudes playfulness and optimism as Falkor, the Luck Dragon who helps Atreyu reach his goal, while Derek Scott is a menacing Gmork and also a tiny figure reminiscent of Craig's bouffon character, Napalm. Billy Merasty has fun as Artax, Atreyu's palomino horse, and Walter Borden and Charlotte Moore provide much of the play's comedy in various cameos. Kate Besworth gives dignity to the Childlike Empress, ruler of Fantastica, and Dalal Badr's spider Ygramul has a sinister, scary presence.
If this were a big-budget, commercial production, I would expect special effects for days. Instead, Craig's wisely opted for a simple design, with colourful, evocative costumes by Lori Hickling, Rick Sacks's suggestive sound design and a set by Glenn Davidson that makes great use of white and black curtains to create landscapes and help define characters. The black curtains, in fact, are the essence of the Nothing's encroaching presence in Fantastica; the Nothing, it turns out, is a world without imagination, and it's clearly a place where no one would choose to live.
For all its entertainment value, this fine theatrical version of The Neverending Story also instructs: in keeping our imaginations active, we also invigorate our lives.