November 30, 2019 | Jessica McFarland
In a not-too-distant future, people live in planned communities where secrets must be confessed, differences must not be pointed out, and choices are forbidden. Jonas (Nick Pellegrino IV) is on the cusp of turning twelve and getting his typical job assignment for the rest of his pleasant, black and white life, until he is told that he has been given a rare and honored position as the Receiver of Memory. He meets his teacher, the enigmatic Giver (Kevin Profitt), and begins to learn what secrets the past holds - and what his world has sacrificed in the name of sameness.
True to form, Pit and Balcony has chosen a nontraditional show this Holiday season; The Giver is adapted from the award-winning children’s classic of the same name, and marks another regional premiere. I entered the theatre a bit skeptical of a stage adaptation of this seminal work, and was for the most part pleasantly surprised. The Giver is sharply directed by Angie Noah and features a promising cast of newcomers as well as some familiar favorites to the area.
Profitt delivers a delightful performance as the aging title character. His crystal clear voice and solid presence on stage wonderfully center the show, and he does an excellent job showing his growing love for his young pupil as well as his deteriorating health. As Jonas, Pellegrino has some lovely scenes where he experiences memories for the first time, and gives a standout performance during the show’s climax. He struggles a bit more with the “down” moments of the character, and Jonas occasionally reads more angsty teen than innocent tween - a minor issue due in part to Pellegrino’s actual age being much older than twelve. Tina Beauvais was excellent as Jonas’ Mother; she has just the right mix of being maternal and practical, with a little bit of a sinister undertone that made her character seem complex without much backstory. Dee (Lambertson) Throop is a solid presence as the Chief Elder, and Karleigh Anderson adds a much needed burst of energy and humor as Jonas’ little sister Lily. The rest of the cast also does a great job, keeping transitions and cues clipping along nicely.
Sound design by L’Oreal Hartwell is vibrant and lush, and sets the stage nicely for the “suspension of disbelief” that is a necessity for a show like this. Lights by Bailey Banks were outstanding, both fully illuminating the actors at all times and also providing extra effects when needed. Also exceptional were the dystopian costumes by Robin Noah - everything was cohesive and well-fitted, but different enough so as not to be boring. She also added a beautiful touch to the curtain call. Props by Matt Kehoe were appropriate and attractive.
A real standout for the show is the gorgeous set, designed and coordinated by Angie Noah and Ken Duby. Utilizing the director’s “circular” inspiration, the set flows beautifully and makes great use of every inch of space. It is both interesting and soothing, and perfectly suited to the setting. Noah’s staging made excellent use of the space, effortlessly drawing the eye to key moments and never feeling clumsy. Her staging of the finale created a bit of a departure from the novel’s deliciously ambiguous ending, in a move that Giver fans may quibble about.
The actors did pretty well in treating the baby characters realistically, but they still fell a little flat. While dolls are frequently used on stage in place of infant characters, in this particular script the emotional punch comes from the audience truly believing that these are real babies. If real babies couldn’t have been found, I would have liked to see more realistic weighted dolls, perhaps that grew throughout the show’s year timeline.
Something to consider moving forward is the show’s timing; The Giver runs very fast at only an hour and fifteen minutes. While Act One is nicely paced and utilizes some exciting tech effects, by the Second Act it feels like the effects have lost their surprise and the actors are brushing past some key emotional moments in the story in an effort to get on to the next big thing. With such a short show, there’s no need to worry about it dragging; the audience needs time to keep up and a few well placed pauses could help.
All of that is nit-picking, though, because The Giver is truly an excellent piece of theatre! If you have tweens or young teens who aren’t as excited about the traditional holiday fare, they’ll be entranced by this show. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get them to open up about the complex themes about the importance of choice, safety vs. freedom, and what it means to be truly alive. With standout tech and design elements, a great cast, and some creative and interesting directorial choices, this show is one that deserves packed audiences!