Michael Place and Hans Altweis in The Neverending Story
(© Chris Bennion)
Michael Place and Hans Altweis in The Neverending Story
(© Chris Bennion)
"I know I didn't want to put the movie on stage," says director David Bennett, in reference to the new David S. Craig stage adaptation of The Neverending Story, now receiving its world-premiere at Seattle Children's Theatre. The 1979 novel by German writer Michael Ende was a worldwide best-seller and was subsequently transformed into a film by Wolfgang Petersen in 1984. Today that film is a childhood icon for those who grew up in the 1980s or watched the Disney channel in the early 1990s, when it was habitually replayed. "I somehow missed out on that," recalls Bennett, "I only watched the film after most of our design was complete!" In fact, Bennett hadn't even read the book when he was approached by SCT's artistic director Linda Hartzell to helm this production. "I started with the play and it was a really good play."

The story follows Bastian, a young boy from our world seeking refuge in the pages of a book. The book charts the quest of Atreyu, a young boy of Bastian's age, seeking to save his world, Fantastica, from the all-consuming Nothing. Atreyu's journey takes him to the far corners of Fantastica, providing what Bennett describes as his production's biggest challenge: scale. "The whole story is about the power of imagination," says Bennett. "We have a lot of puppets and creatures and Flying by Foy [the stage flight company used in many a production of Peter Pan]. Meeting and finding all of these worlds took a lot of time."

On top of coordinating an army of designers and special effects artists, the director also got to collaborate with Ann and Nancy Wilson of the Seattle-based rock band Heart. "They were interested in this project, and over the summer they wrote a new theme song that we use throughout the play," says Bennett.

While the production is geared towards children, Bennett states that "it's definitely a play that even adults can find resonance in. Fear and disconnect dominate Bastian in the human world, but he is inspired and finds his own voice in this story."

-- Z.S.

********************

Dan Rodden and Ana Sferruzza in Marrying Terry
(© Joanna Kozek)
Dan Rodden and Ana Sferruzza in Marrying Terry
(© Joanna Kozek)
"I'm hoping to give the city of Chicago a nice little New Year's present," says Gregg Opelka, whose play Marrying Terry is currently running at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater. Set on New Year's Eve, the romantic comedy involves a case of mistaken identity that lands a female librarian and a male radiologist in the last hotel room at the Drake, during a blizzard.

Opelka, who has eight musicals under his belt, is primarily known as a songwriter, so this show marks a significant change of pace for him. Places in the script that might ordinarily call out for a song must be solved with prose. "The challenge is to make those moments have a heightened language even in the context of a really straightforward comedy," he states.

The playwright's background in philology serves him well. "I'm an old word nerd from way back," says Opelka. "I've told other friends of mine -- and I don't mean this in a snobby way -- that if they want to become better writers, to learn Latin. You'd be amazed by how many words you inherit without even trying."

The idea of New Year's is something that appeals greatly to Opelka. "It's a fresh start," he says. "In the play, this evening changes the lives of both of the major characters." As far as his own New Year's resolution goes, the playwright -- who is already busy at work on his next play -- says that "it's mostly just to get eight hours of sleep two days in a row."

-- D.B.

********************

Eric Martin Brown and Larisa Polonsky in Age of Arousal
(© Jim Roese)
Eric Martin Brown and Larisa Polonsky in Age of Arousal
(© Jim Roese)
"When we think of Victorians, the first thought we normally have is that they're repressed sexually, and that they're kind of dour," says playwright Linda Griffiths, whose Victorian era comedy Age of Arousal is currently playing Philadelphia's Wilma Theater. "In my play, there's a challenge in each of the characters that's sexual, and that leads to some of the fun. There's a gay relationship, one woman may be bi, there's a woman who is highly sexed from childhood, and a character who essentially has no trouble with celibacy."

Griffiths calls her play "wildly inspired" by George Gissing's 1893 novel, The Odd Women. "I was perusing the dollar bin in this great bookstore near me, and picked up this book I'd never heard of about five Victorian spinsters," she states. "What interested me was the relationships between women, and I saw the novel as an opportunity to explore that. I've taken some of the character names and the basic plot line, although I've invented a couple plot lines of my own."

The playwright did extensive research on the historical period, from reading novels by Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, and Henry James to "watching a lot of Pride and Prejudice DVDs and Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland." The suffragette movement also figures prominently within the play. "Everything is historically accurate within a 45-year time period, but the issues are so contemporary that you're able to look at them in a new light."

Griffiths couldn't be happier with the Wilma production, which follows fast on the heels of a Toronto mounting that closed in mid-December. "It's probably among the three most beautiful productions I've ever seen in my life," she says. "Blanka [Zizka, the director] is incredible as an interpreter, and what the Wilma does in terms of visual images and excitement is just gorgeous."

-- D.B.