Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Giver—Oregon Children’s Theatre (at Winningstad)—downtown Portland

Colors of the Mind

This grim tale is based on the highly acclaimed book by Lois Lowry and adapted for the stage by Eric Coble.  It is directed for OCT by Matthew B. Zrebski and plays though May 18th.  It is staged at the Winningstad Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

Last season OCT performed another adaptation of a Lowry book, Gathering Blue.  The story takes place in the future and bears some resemblance to Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984 and Soylent Green.  They all have in common a future life for us that is less than desirable.  They picture an authoritarian world of submission, lacking emotion and a secret longing for a life left behind in the distant past.

Very few Sci-fi stories preview a world of hope.  Could it be these writers are reacting to our present situations of materialism, pollution, intolerance, warfare and an over-reliance on electronics and computerization?  Could they be seers, warning us of a fated, dismal future if we continue in this vain?  I wonder…

This world, as pictured from the outset, is a gray one, literally.  There is no color, all things are gray, a sameness for all people.  That way there can be no competition for who is better and, thus, no struggle, no dangers…no freedom!  Everything is decided for you by a Council of Elders, represented by its Chief (April Magnusson).  And, on a child’s 12th birthday, the Council will decide on your life’s career for this Society.

Some will become birth mothers (and then relegated to common laborers).  Asher (Nate Gardner) is to be the Director of Recreation, his friend, Fiona (Hannah Baggs), is to the Caretaker for the Old.  And Jonas (Tristan Comella) has been chosen for the exalted duty of being The Giver, a keeper of all the past memories of the world.  He is to leave his family of his Father (James Luster), his Mother (Cecily Overman) and his little sister, Lily (Steele Clevenger) to be trained by the current Giver (Andrés Alcalá).

The major part of the story concerns the relationship between the old Giver and his neophyte, Jonas.  It seems that all memories of the old world must be passed down to Jonas in small doses.  He will get to experience things like snow (his world is climate-controlled, for a uniformity of a pleasant temperature year-round).  He will also experience animals that are not allowed in this society, as being potentially dangerous.

But he will also experience war, hunger, pain and the “stirrings,” or feelings/emotions that have been suppressed in the “accepted” world by taking a daily pill.  Little by little, colors began to appear to him, as well as truths about what happens to undesirables and the old, those who are weak and no longer of use to society.  He sees the differences in the worlds of what was and what is.  The outcome I cannot write about without giving away much of the plot twists.  But the end is decidedly bittersweet.

I was especially impressed with the scenic design and lighting (Tal Sanders) and media images (Jeff Kurihara), as well as costuming (Emily Horton).  The subtlety of changes in the props, costumes and lighting as Jonas becomes aware of color are nicely done.  And the Director, Zrebski, has created an acting world in which most of the performers speak almost in monotones to reflect the emotions lacking in such a controlled society. And the actors all do a good job of performing in what probably seems like a very dry manner, but necessary for the story to be understood.  Alcalá, as the old Giver and Comella, as Jonas, the young giver are especially impressive, as about half the play concentrates on just these two performers.  They are both very convincing and adept in portraying some very complex characters with conflicted emotions.  My hats off to them.

It should be noted that this is not a story for younger children and should be viewed by more mature Youth.  The subject matter is pretty grim and (from what I’ve been told) even more explicit in the book.  Half the performers in it are Youth and do well with the mature material but I would be wary of allowing younger children to view it.  Parents should probably read the book first and then decide whether their child should see it.

I recommend this production but, with the warning noted above.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, please click on the link to Greg’s theatre blog:

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