In The Giver, Eric Coble’s adaptation of the Newberry Award-winning novel by Lois Lowry, Aldersgate Church Community Theater offers a family-friendly production about a future society that has gained the ability to control human memory. This interesting premise was the catalyst for Lowry’s much-beloved children’s book. In the effort to build their society into a utopia without disparity, war, or the chaos of choices, the community has lost all the extremes of experience that bring variety to human existence. As Jennifer Lyman points out in her Director’s notes, this utopian ideal eliminates aspects of society that are necessary to achieve passion, beauty, or art. The greatest loss is love, which in itself makes such a society a dystopia.
The story revolves around Jonas, played winningly by TC Williams High School student, Brett Medley. In his society, people are given roles which fit their strengths and interests. In a ceremony where all twelve-year-olds are assigned roles, he is given the most important task in his community, to receive the memories of his community from the Giver. This elder character who keeps the memories of the world going “back, back, back,” is terrifically portrayed by Paul Donahoe. Jonas and the Giver are the characters who most show what we think of as essentially human qualities.
One of the highlights of ACCT is the choice of shows which allows for casting a broad age range of actors, a great goal in community theater. There are other noteworthy performances, especially from James T. Pearson, who plays the seemingly nurturing father, and Patricia Spencer Smith, playing both an elder who is befriended by Jonas, and the Chief Elder of the society.
The adaptation is faithful to Lowry’s book, but out of necessity, has limited how much it can recreate. Scene transitions were quick and smooth, but didn’t change the set enough to always seem warranted. Sometimes the alternate sides of the stage represented different settings simultaneously, so using that as a dramatic convention, perhaps a unit set might have allowed for instantaneous transitions. John Downing’s set design was intriguingly utilitarian and painstakingly built, but painted almost entirely a monochromatic grey. Thematically, this seems appropriate, but variations in tones of grey, as costume designer Michelle Harris creates, would provide more visual appeal and still make the point.
Production aspects include strong lighting design by Jeff Auerbach and Kimberly Crago, which isolates areas of the stage for focus supporting the transitions between scenes, and helps provide the rare glimpses of color. Sound design by Eddie Page helped provide some of the presented memories that are so central to the story. The most innovative technical aspect was the use of projections to portray the memories that are given to Jonas. Projection Designer Jon Roberts coordinates 3 projectors and 3D mapping onto varied surfaces, creating the still and video representation of memories Jonas receives from the Giver, which are the technical and dramatic highlights of the play.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.