The Giver, on stage at the Indiana Repertory Theater, brings Lois Lowry’s Newberry Award winning book to life in a family friendly show for Indianapolis kids. The IRT assembled a team of Indianapolis artists all asking the same question, “Is change really possible?” The design concepts and performances shared with Indianapolis theater in their latest offering come together beautifully to create a fast paced and simple telling of a classic children’s book.
Lois Lowry has a reputation for handling difficult material in her children’s work. With a talent for being honest and writing beautifully, she gained international acclaim for both The Giver and Number the Stars. These novels are an integral part of many schools’ curricula, and the IRT attempts to add to this semester of study with their presentation of The Giver, adapted by Eric Coble. And with a little less than 70 matinees for Indianapolis schools, the IRT will be an important part of Indianapolis education this Fall.
Mr. Coble’s adaptation turns a 198 page book into a play that runs less than 90 minutes on the IRT stage. In a fast paced rhythm, The Giver takes you on one 12 year old boy’s journey through a major rite of passage. Jonas (Garrett McKenna) has just been selected as the Receiver for his community. In a world without color, without slang words, and without choices, the community in The Giver seems drab at first sight. But with chilling performances from Jonas’s family and friends, a deeper sense of absence is discovered.
IRT regulars Robert K. Johnasen and Jennifer Johansen team up as real life husband and wife to play Jonas’ father and mother. As the only adults on stage caught up in this colorless world, both Johansens are chilling as drones in this society. They establish a sense of ignorant bliss throughout the entire community on stage at the IRT. Pride and concern act as place holders for love towards each other, their son Jonas, and daughter Lilly (Anna Miller).
Miller, as the youngest member of the cast, is a breath of fresh air and a perfect example of indoctrination in the community. Jonas’s two friends Asher (Reilly Crouse) and Fiona (Maggie Williams) complete a three musketeer’s dynamic. The give pitch perfect performances as their new assignments cause them to grow apart, as is apt to happen in childhood. Though only Williams has prior experience on the IRT’s stage, all three children step up to the plate.
Fredrick Marshall, is no stranger to the IRT. This time in the title role he steps outside of himself. As he shares with Jonas, he reveals the secrets of this time and place with innate wisdom. As a pair on stage, Marshall and McKenna illicit meaningful performances from each other. They do an excellent job of taking the IRT’s audience through each memory, and of sharing a real sense of pain or pleasure as they do it.
James Schumacher’s scenic design on the IRT’s upper stage is a utilitarian playground for this world. Everything blends together on stage, until moment of entry into the Giver’s chamber. From sameness to chaos, Schumacher makes a space where the transmission of memory is not only plausible it is likely. However, the memories shared in the story come to life only through Betsy Cooprider-Berstein’s lighting design. With the appropriate splashes of color and pattern, the lights transport to sail boat to a meadow to bloody battle.
With so much magic in Lowry’s original children’s book, the IRT had quite a task in front of them in producing The Giver. But director Richard Roberts relies on simplicity and imagination to bring these things to life. He does something many theatre artists often forget; he trusts his audience. It is up to them fill in the visual gaps, as they would in reading the novel. More importantly, he asks questions of his audience as he takes them on this journey. In the play and on paper there is plenty of material for discussion. The IRT’s dramaturgical packets are available here for families and teachers alike.
Spark a discussion in your family this month. Expose your Indianapolis children to the best of Indianapolis performing arts. Allow the Indianapolis art at the IRT to show them that even someone little can do something big. For more information on how to purchase tickets, visit the IRT’s website. You really do live more when its live at the IRT!
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