Remembering A Loveless Future?
By Tom Wachunas
The program notes by director Jonathan Tisevich for the current Players Guild production of The Giver are, like the story, Spartan and foreboding. “The GIVER is a warning shot across the bow to America 2015,” Tisevich writes at one point. True enough. Yet, this cautionary parable describes a hypothetical societal ethos far darker and more disturbing than merely “American” in nature.
Spartan, too, is the scenic design by Joshua Erichsen. The stage looks like a towering warehouse of neutral- toned walls that eerily underscore a cold homogeneity, a literally colorless reality. It’s a reality governed by stringent regulations of human expressivity and behavior. Devoid of cultural memory and diversity, it’s a reality built upon correcting “The Ruin” of a history remembered by only a single individual, the revered “Receiver of Memory,” an advisor to the Council of Elders. The controlling mantra for all communication in this dystopia is “precision of language.” Undesired individuals, from babies to the elderly, are summarily “released” – a numbing euphemism, of course, for killed.
Precision of language? In terms of compelling literature for the stage, Eric Coble’s adaptation of the Lois Lowry book (which I didn’t read) often seems ambivalent and underdeveloped. Still, the cast manages to invest their portrayals of brainwashed citizens with some memorable if not always likeable affect.
The character of Jonas, played by the Dominic Martello with riveting urgency, is the only one in his community who authentically feels the tragic emptiness of his world. We are as much repulsed as fascinated by Jonas’s parents (Tom Bryant as the father, Cheryl Henderson as the mother) and delightfully impish little sister (Elise Pakiela) and their formulaic language which has been mostly emptied of sincerity or real meaning, and likewise Anne Rematt’s robot-like, martial rendering of the Chief Elder. While Jonas’s friends, the endearingly clumsy Asher (Zach Blake) and the sweet, reserved Fiona (Katie Remark) “graduate” to their assigned jobs in the community, ironically enough Jonas is assigned to begin his training to be the next Receiver.
It’s an educational process both ecstatic and excruciating for both Jonas and his teacher, the aging Giver. In that role, Donald Jones is a poignant and compassionate presence, his demeanor a combination of gentle authority and wearied, even sad resolve as he begins to transmit the unimaginable weight of his collected remembrances to his youthful charge. As Jonas acquires those memories – including the horrors of war and his first inkling of real love - sections of books in the Giver’s massive library on the drab rear wall of the set progressively light up in rainbow hues. Thus Jonas’s gift for “seeing beyond” is intensely illuminated and he realizes he must journey outside his community to mysterious “Elsewhere” if there is any hope of changing the world. And so he escapes with an infant named Gabriel, who was scheduled for release.
We’re never told how, exactly, Jonas plans to bring his desires to fruition. We’re left, arguably too much, to our own imaginative devices. As it is, his arduous wintry journey ends at the house of a family celebrating Christmas. Jonas exclaims, “Gabriel, we’re home!” Is it so unreasonable to make a connection between baby Gabriel and the angel of the same name, the messenger of true Hope and Joy, whom we associate with The Holy Family?
In the end, maybe what’s missing from this play is…precision of vision.
The Giver, THROUGH March 8, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, at Players Guild Theatre Mainstage, Cultural Center for the Arts, 1101 Market Ave. N, Canton. TICKETS: $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, $17 for ages 17 and younger. On sale at 330-453-7617 and www.playersguildtheatre.com.