GIVER_title_posterImagine a place where there is no pain, but also no pleasure; no choices, nothing but routine; a safe, challenge-free, well-behaved place with no war or color or sickness or stirrings of love. And, even more significant – no memories of these emotions and freedoms, except in one person – the Receiver of Memory.

IRT’s latest Upper-stage offering, The Giver, is based on the 1993 homonymous children’s novel by Lois Lowry. It deals with a 12 year old boy’s existence in such a place and his efforts to cope with or escape from it’s tenets. The adaptation for the stage, by Eric Coble, does a good job setting up this choice-free world for the audience. I found it interesting to note the ways that “Sameness”, the societal plan that eliminates pain and strife and choice, was shown to be both advantageous and emotionally crippling. The people living under the Sameness plan know no other way and, as I said, have no memory of a way before.

This is the story of Jonas, who on his 12th birthday receives his assignment for life as the new Receiver of Memory. He is tasked with a training regimen under the present holder of that position. As he must now know all memories, he is required to experience all the past’s pleasures and terrors. So, he comes to the truths of his society, one of which – the true meaning of “being released” – stirs a wanting to escape.

Jonas (Grayson Molin) receives a memory from The Giver (David Alan Anderson) in IRT's

Jonas (Grayson Molin) receives a memory from The Giver (David Alan Anderson) in IRT’s “The Giver”

All the elemental aspects of depicting such a place and it’s people are accomplished with IRT’s usual amazing richness and succinctness. A concise set (by Scenic Designer Robert Mark Morgan) is dominated by seemingly endless file drawers which hold the locked away past memories of everything from the glorious blaze of a sunset to the horrors of war. Lighting and sound techniques (by Betsy Cooprider-Bernstein and Tom Horan, respectively) lead us to imaginings of feelings both pleasing and tension-filled. Costumes (by Guy Clark) and props have a colorless, style-free quality and the actors steadily portray the organized, featureless world of the Sameness society.

Jonas (Grayson Molin), Mother (Katie deBuys), Lily (Jordan Pecar) and Father (Bill Simmons) are a family in IRT's

Jonas (Grayson Molin), Mother (Katie deBuys), Lily (Jordan Pecar) and Father (Bill Simmons) are a family in IRT’s “The Giver”

All that said, this amply presented piece leads us to an incomplete conclusion that is neither specific nor satisfying. We are left to wonder the final fate of our hero, and the effect of his courageous disobedience. All we are shown in the last scene is that he feels an icy chill of the weather, has a vision of a sled and a hill, and hears music. Many may say that this is as it should be – that the author and playwright have left a myriad of possibilities in this way. (I have not read the novel, but my understanding is that a resolution to it came in the form of a follow-up book, called “Messenger”.) All the same, I may have liked more of a settling ending – but perhaps that’s just me.

Father (Bill Simmons), Lily (Jordan Pecar), Fiona (Lola Kennedy) and Asher (Joseph Hock) in a scene from IRT's

Father (Bill Simmons), Lily (Jordan Pecar), Fiona (Lola Kennedy) and Asher (Joseph Hock) in a scene from IRT’s “The Giver”

This is not to say that the journey to this incomplete ending is anything less than pleasurable. The actors’ work, under the sensitive direction of Courtney Sale, is finely done. David Alan Anderson returns, following his triumphant turn as Dr. King in last season’s The Mountaintop, to take on the title role here. He gives the outgoing Receiver of Memory all the sensitivities he must have, including a weary countenance and a longing for completion. Bill Simmons’ and Katie deBuys’ portrayals of Jonas’ parents are steady and well-defined. Jordan Pecar gives a finished performance as Jonas’ little sister, Lily; Joseph Hock is completely credible as his friend, Asher; and Lola Kennedy does a lovely job with the role of his female friend, Fiona. But most incredible in this cast is 7th grader Grayson Molin, who positively owns the stage as Jonas. This is a major role for so young an actor, and Molin has a sure feel for the many emotional experiences he must project in the portrayal. He gives as sure-footed a performance as I have seen a young man deliver. I truly hope this is one of many times we get to experience his acting abilities.

Bottom line: although there was a lacking in the ending, which did not fully suit me, I greatly enjoyed the premise, the artistic undertaking and the performances of this production. The experience led me to many musings and an interesting discussion with my wife, Donna. What if…? What if that was the way we lived. What if we did not know any other ways? Are we living now in a “no other ways” existence? Well – are we?

The Giver continues at Indiana Repertory Theatre through February 21. To find show times and ticket information, you may go to http://www.irtlive.com or phone the box office at 317.635.5252.

* – Photos by Zach Rosing
**- Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale

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