DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: ‘Neverending Story’ shines bright

THE LIGHT BULB blazed on courtesy of Anna Andersen, director of Port Angeles High School’s production of “The Neverending Story,” to live-stream its final three shows this weekend.

Our hero, young Bastian (Avery Saul), has lost his mother. For many reasons, he can’t let himself grieve. The boy is a lonely bookworm, so when he discovers a big old mysterious volume at his local bookshop, he opens it.

Out onto the wide stage tumbles “The Neverending Story,” set in a strange world called Fantasia. Atreyu (Talia Anderson) appears, another hero with a striking resemblance to Bastian.

What happens next testifies to the power of open-heartedness: ours and that of the play’s 35-member cast and crew.

During the show’s intermission, Andersen explains how, when Bastian dives into the book, he finds a tale that gives him emotional release.

As humans, we struggle to deal with feelings of deep sadness. We find catharsis in art — be it a novel, short story, movie, painting, play or musical.

A fictional hero shows us the way. We might cry through the losses and feel through the loneliness, but we get to see the characters come out tougher.

We emerge cleansed. In a darkened theater — or a room at home — we can feel less self-conscious.

“The Neverending Story” is live-streaming from the high school auditorium thanks to Andersen and her colleagues’ determination. Adhering to pandemic-era safety protocols, they spent six weeks rehearsing and building sets and costumes for the YouTube production.

It is a wonder to behold. See for yourself by purchasing a ticket for this Friday, Saturday or Sunday’s performance at portangeles.booktix.com.

These are teenagers, not professional thespians, and you can feel their energy ­— and nervousness — even from your home screen.

“We’re so passionate about acting,” Avery, 17, says during a brief intermission interview. Yes, performers feed off the audience, and no, there is none there in person, but “we’re still really excited.”

The production had to be extra-carefully planned out, adds costar Talia — which made it a better show.

Patric McInnis, who teaches video production in Port Angeles High’s career and technical education program, calls himself “super excited” too.

He’s working with students on the production with multiple cameras and technical challenges. Meanwhile Riley Baermann, a 2020 graduate of PAHS, has been hired as technical director.

“It’s a pretty cool gig,” Baermann told me, adding, “we have to be super safe … so it’s been a little bit of a weird process.”

The play is about holding onto your creativity, your imagination, added Andersen.

Those qualities are in full view in the crew and cast, which includes Christian Eastman, Abby Sanford, Delfonzo Martinez-Vasquez II, Megan Boyd, Madeline Montana, Zach Perry, Sophia Orth, Dana Duffy, Zelby Gloria, Gabby Montana, Levi Pulsipher, Alana Baker and Rayna Mathison.

Let’s face it, “The Neverending Story” is a bit of a cringe-inducing title for a pandemic play.

Yet this saga, with its hero’s journey, its animals with speaking parts and its 1980s-vintage musical breaks, is both entertaining and timeless.

It made me curious about the 1984 movie, which was popular with critics and ticket buyers.

As with any good story, each audience member can find something that resonates.

For me it’s how Bastian contends with bullying by classmates — and books come to his rescue.

Throughout elementary school and junior high, I escaped the mean girls via reading horse stories, then Nancy Drew, then Gothic novels.

“I think art is important at any time,” Andersen told me, “and it’s most important when we’re facing a hard time. It has overcome many a hard time.”

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz is a senior reporter in Jefferson County.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Dec. 2.

Reach her at [email protected]

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