Have you ever gotten lost in a book, and never wanted it to end?
If so, you have a friend in Bastian Bux, who finds himself enthralled by the people and creatures he meets in “The NeverEnding Story,” and the pearls of wisdom that they have to tell him. The story is coming to San Juan Community Theatre starting Jan. 21 to be played by a high school cast.
In the play, Bastian’s mother has recently passed away and his father is absent and preoccupied by his loss. At school Bastian is picked on by bullies, and he finds solace in a book that turns out to be a magical journey to a land called Fantastica that is threatened by the Nothings. He soon finds himself deeply entrenched in the fight to save Fantastica, and winds up becoming a hero.
“This play throughout touches on depression, loneliness, and about how you can feel alone and forget that you’re surrounded by people who do care about you and are wanting you around,” Merritt said. “One of the biggest messages of the play is to do what you dream, and not just keep your feet on the ground but to find a way to go after what you dream.”
“The NeverEnding Story” is the third play Merritt has directed on her own, and she previously worked with local director Fred Yockers. Merritt grew up on San Juan Island and has been involved in theater since she was eight years old.
Last school year, Merritt and her cast of actors worked on a number of comedies, including “A Walk in the Woods” and “The Secret Case of Sherlock Holmes.” This year, Merritt said she was looking for a play in a different genre for the kids to try.
“We had an amazing year last year, they acted their hearts out,” said Merritt. “So I’m reading through scripts and I’m needing to find something that will challenge the kids in a different way from the comedies we did last year, but still is heartfelt. And then I saw the script pop up for “The NeverEnding Story,” which was my childhood favorite movie. I wore out the VHS copy of it.”
The play has presented a number of challenges, since the book and movie of “The NeverEnding Story” detail elaborate costumes and fantastical sets, including a giant speaking dragon puppet, swampy landscapes and a number of extravagant mythical creatures.
“Translating it to a stage where you can’t do tons of special effects, it ends up heavily relying on the acting that these students are doing,” Merritt said. “It has been difficult in different ways, how do we portray this scene so the audience feels like they’re there?”
The play has 26 student actors and 10 students working on the technical side. Merritt said that by the end of the rehearsals, she hands the play off to the students, who do all of the lights, curtains, soundboard and projections.
“The cast has bonded really well, and the theatrics of the play are really great,” said 11th grader Madrona Jameson, who plays the Luck Dragon Falkor. “It’s one of the most special plays I’ve been in.”
Another student, Ula Grace in ninth grade plays a Nothing and Cairon.
“I’m really excited to be in this play,” Ula said. “I really love the cast, we’ve really come together. The play has such a good message, and I’m excited for it.”
Although “The NeverEnding Story” focuses on a younger boy, the story itself is relatable to people of all ages who’ve ever felt alone or sad.
“It’s repeated throughout the play: you are not alone, and at the end: do what you dream,” Merritt said. “I just love how it meshes those together.”
The play runs Jan. 21 to Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m., and Jan. 24 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $16 for adults, $8 for student reserved, and student RUSH (at door only) $5.
For tickets visit the San Juan Community Theatre box office, or visit their website at www.sjct.org.