Can your children picture a world without smart phones? Without color? Without personal choice or emotions? A staged version of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, meant for those age 9 and up, is helping Valley audiences imagine life in a society far different from our own.
The Giver, which earned the prestigious Newbery Medal, is the first in a series of four books completed with the recent publication of Lowry’s Son. Like Suzanne Collins, author of the more recent The Hunger Games trilogy, Lowry explores life within a dystopian society that elevates state control over individual freedom.
Lowry’s popularity with Valley readers was confirmed when 400 people lined up to hear her speak and have books signed during a recent event presented at Dobson High School by Changing Hands Bookstore. Her audience that day included cast members from the Childsplay production of “The Giver,” which is being performed through Sunday, Nov. 11 at Tempe Center for the Arts.
Childsplay’s production of playwright Eric Coble’s adaptation is directed by Andrés Alcalá. The cast includes Dwayne Hartford (The Giver), Adrian Hernandez (Jonas), Cullen Law (Asher), Kaleena Newman (Fiona/Rosemary), Michelle Cunneen (Lily), Debra K. Stevens (Mother) and Louis Farber (Father). Together they deliver a powerful performance that conveys the image of a world wiped clean with a giant eraser.
“The Giver” opens with a family of four gathered around a dining room table, calmly sharing their feelings one at a time. Mother, father, sister and brother all wear grey clothing that resembles medical scrubs. They talk in tones that feel artificially cheerful and serene, as if showing emotion was somehow dangerous or forbidden.
Son Jonas is consumed by thoughts of turning 12, the age at which community elders prescribe a person’s lifetime occupation. When the ceremony for “twelves” takes place, elders announce that he’s to become their next “Giver” — the sole person capable of experiencing collective memories good and bad.
As Jonas’ story unfolds, it’s easy for those in the audience to wonder how they might handle similar circumstances. There’s plenty for families to discuss once they’ve seen the play together. Should we love family members less when they commit acts we find deplorable? Are there times that breaking the rules promotes a greater good? Can joy be fully appreciated without the experience of despair?
Thoughtful scenic, sound and projection design — coupled with effective costume and lighting design — slowly pulls audience members into the world of “The Giver.” Three giant panels, placed behind set pieces appropriately simple and sparse, feature screens of various sizes. Each screen has four sharp corners, a reflection of the precision and utilitarian nature of Jonas’ family and community.
Creating the physical world of Lowry’s “The Giver” fell to Jim Luther (scenic designer), D. Daniel Hollingshead (costume designer), Jennifer Setlow (lighting designer), Christopher Neumeyer (sound designer) and Boyd Branch (projection designer). Samantha Monson serves as stage manager, working behind the scenes to assure it all comes together for each performance. David Saar is Childsplay’s founder and artistic director.
Early in the play, a large screen shows the image of an elder assuring the community that a plane heard overhead poses no threat. Later, as the Giver transmits to Jonas the collective memories others never experience, the entire backdrop is awash in images ranging from nature scenes to warfare. Snowflakes fall from the sky, but so too does a nuclear bomb.
It becomes clear over time that Jonas isn’t going to accept the status quo. Instead, he embraces the power of choice. For youth beginning to wrestle with issues of personal responsibility and a growing awareness that the world around them isn’t perfect, “The Giver” is a powerful reminder that what we do alone and together matters.
Childsplay performs “The Giver” on weekends through Nov. 11. An American Sign Language performance takes place at 1pm on Sunday, Nov. 4 and the only weekday performance is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 1pm. Performances are held at Tempe Center for the Arts, and followed by a Q & A session with cast members. Click here for show and ticket details.