The Giver is one of my favorite young adult novels; Lois Lowry’s vision of a dystopian future is chilling in its simplicity. I wasn’t a fan of the 2014 film – too much was altered and too many Big Hollywood Stars were crammed into the piece to let it breathe – so I entered the stage version both excited and apprehensive. I needn’t have worried – this adaptation by Eric Coble, directed by David Bunce, succeeds on stage where it failed on the screen.
Set in a not-too-distant future, twelve-year-old Jonas (Cullen Sausville) is given the prestigious job of Receiver of Memory; he’s to train with The Giver (Joe Quandt) to hold all the memories of all of history, because the community in which they live doesn’t want anyone else to have access to them. In a world where he’s always felt safe and protected, Jonas begins to realize what’s been kept from everyone in order to give them that sense of order: color, music, choice, any sort of difference, and emotion – primarily love – just to start. Not allowed to share what he’s learned with anyone else, Jonas is forced into a decision that will change everyone’s lives forever.
The production team outdid themselves. William Spencer Musser’s set is towering, gray, white, black, and utilitarian; Lynne Roblin’s costumes are uniform, baggy and gray, with a pop of color for The Giver’s robe (designed and constructed by Sandra Catricala); Xavier Rene’s videos, with Madi Morrissey’s projections, are beautifully rendered and at times heartbreaking and Micaiah Siemski’s sound design goes from terrifying to beautiful with deft strokes. As color is a big part of Jonah’s world, the lack of it in the production (and the few times it appears) is masterful, down to having every actor’s hair tucked away to complete the “sameness” the community strives for. My only complaint (and it’s slight) is that the sound was a bit low at the beginning and some of the dialogue both onstage and in the videos was lost; however, the problem was rectified quickly, and since this was opening night, I’m sure it won’t happen again.
Quandt portrays the gravitas and pain of a man living with a singular burden beautifully; he’s the wise grandfather we all wish we had, kind and protective. Sausville, at only 14, performs a difficult role with ease; his friendship with Asher (Josie Sears) and his relationship with The Giver are well-defined and touching and his energy onstage is strong and controlled. Sears gave Asher the goofiness from the book that I love, and Sydney Aurora, doing double duty as both Jonas’s younger sister Lily and the previous Receiver of Memory, Rosemary, gave a strong performance as well.
It’s not often that a show can powerfully affect all ages, yet The Giver has something for children and adults alike; there’s no one I wouldn’t recommend this for. I left with tears in my eyes, and if it moved me as much as the book did, this is a job well done.
“The Giver,” Theatre Institute at Sage, Schacht Fine Arts Center, 5 Division Street, Troy; through February 18; $15-$8; Runtime: 80 minutes; (518) 244-4505; theatre.sage.edu