All Over The Map
The Neverending Story in Seattle, Marrying Terry in Chicago, and Age of Arousal in Philadelphia.
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."
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."
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."