Monday, October 15, 2012

"The Giver"

Photo Credit:  Denver Center Theater Company.
Author:  Lois Lowry

Adapted for the stage by:  Eric Coble

:  The Ricketson Theatre, 1101 13th Street (Denver Performing Arts Center), Denver, CO

Date of Performance:  Saturday, October 13, 2012

Running Time:  1 hour, 15 minutes (no intermission).

“Utopia is that which is in contraction with reality” 
Albert Camus, “Between Hell and Reason.”

The Giver” gives us a view of an alternate reality, and that reality is someone’s version of Utopia.  It’s a perfect place.  All difficult decisions have been made years ago.  Correct decisions are imposed on the population, so no one has to suffer the consequences of his or her poor decisions.  Everyone is polite, happy, and without any substantial worries.

But this place is not really perfect.  Far from it.

Life here is programmed; there are no deviations.  Those who are deemed unsuitable for the community are “released.”  “Releasing” is a process for making certain that the unsuitable person will not create any disruption to the community.  Ever.

The Giver” is taken from Lois Lowry’s successful (Newbery Medal, 1994) novel of the same name.  The plot poses an important question for the 12 year old protagonist:  should he stay in his home, where he will never know love, emotions, color, or freedom, or should he run away to pursue a fuller life?  It’s a great premise, and “The Giver” tells the story through its target audience:  children.

My mixed feelings about this production require a disclaimer:  what follows is personal opinion.  Your personal opinion may differ, and that’s fine.  Take my opinion for what it’s worth.  If it’s worth nothing to you, feel free to discard it.  Opinions are subjective, and mine is as valid (or as invalid) as any other.

I very much liked the performance.  The actors were all very capable, and the child actors were especially so.  The set was eye popping.  When the backdrop lit up, I literally sat up straight in my seat.  The technical effects were impressive; it snowed on stage.  The lighting was imaginative.  Director Christy Montour Larson is a gifted director who has had an outstanding 2012 (see, for example, “9 Circles” and “Red”), and “The Giver” has her personal touch.  This is, in every sense, a production of the quality we all expect from the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC).
That said, though, I have reservations.  Those reservations are principally related to the script, over which the DCTC has no control. 

I may be old fashioned, but dystopian works, be they novels or plays, are more appropriate, in my view, for adults than children.  It’s not that I have a problem with children being exposed to subjects that require critical thinking on complicated subjects.  Quite the contrary, children should be encouraged early on to think outside the box and to challenge the world they will inherit.

My principle problem is that “The Giver,” along with some other contemporary dystopian works (for example, “The HungerGames”), involve the torture and/or murder of children.  I realize that kids now see more violence on TV and in video games than I’ve probably seen in my lifetime, but that doesn’t comfort me.  “The Giver” includes “releasing” a newborn identical twin baby.  Perhaps that doesn’t disturb children, but it disturbed me.

The DCTC has designated “The Giver” as part of its Youth Series.  DCTC offered workshops and study guides to teachers to help them effectively present “The Giver” to their students.  That’s a great service to teachers, but whether it’s a great service to students is an open question for me. 

That’s quite enough of my reluctance to expose children to such unpleasant concepts. So here’s a final thought about this script.  I found the last scene of the play abrupt, unexplained by the script, and unsatisfying.  Since I don’t do spoilers, you’ll have to see or read “The Giver” yourself to understand my objection. 

If you are wondering if I can recommend “The Giver,” the answer is yes.  It’s a dynamite production of a script I’m not crazy about.  You may disagree with my view of the script.  If so, you will definitely like this excellent DCTC production.


This show runs through Sunday, November 18, 2012. 

Director:  Christie Montour-Larson

Scenic Designer:  Robert Mark Morgan


Father:  Timothy McCracken

Mother:  Diana Dresser

Lily:  Aliza Fassett/Amelia Modesitt

Jonas:  Jackson Garske/Alastair Hennessy

Asher:  Gabe Koskinen-Sansone/Evan Sullivan

Fiona:  Brynn Gauthier/Isabel Sabbah

Chief Elder:  Billie McBride

The Giver:  Philip Pleasants

Voice of Speaker:  Hilary Blair

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