December 1, 2019 | Dr. Jeff List
"If everything is the same, there are no choices."
The stage adaptation of the essential young adult novel, The Giver, marks the second selection for Pit & Balcony’s current season. This story, set in a dystopian future, tells the story of Jonas who discovers the joys and pains of living when selected for a special role in society, the Receiver of Memory.
The Giver shares his collected knowledge and memories of humanity long ago before the leaders decided to cast the community into the Sameness. Jonas decides to rebel with the help of the Giver. P&B gives us a show well worth braving the elements - carefully, of course - for an enjoyable evening.
Some really nice acting performances add to the depth and help tell a complicated story in a brisk hour and a half. Nick Pelligrino IV, as the lead Jonas, brings a bright idealism to the role. However, he is also burdened by his newfound role as Receiver. He wants to share the pain and love he experiences, but is forbidden from doing so. This dilemma comes through in his acting. Pelligrino, as Jonah, is able to forge compelling relationships with the Giver (Kevin Profitt), Mother (Tina Beayvais), Father (Spencer Beyerlein), and Fiona (Mary Kolleth). He is even able to develop a relationship with Gabriel, a newborn.
Kevin Profitt as the Giver brings a commanding presence and gravitas to the role. Yet, when needed, he shows vulnerability and his burden. He is a treat to watch mentoring young Pelligrino. Profitt’s change from ‘this is the way it has always been and must be“ to where he grows (no spoilers) moved me. Profitt gives a performance worth seeing.
Spencer Beyerlein and Tina Beayvais bring the necessary evenness to their roles. They abide by the Community’s rules, mostly, and avoid excessive emotion. Beyerlein rightly does not share the burden experienced by Jonas and the Giver, despite his complicated social role. Beayvais is placid as the role requires, and is also clear and deliberate in her parenting role. She does much with limited opportunities. Karleigh Anderson is absolutely adorable as Lily and gets the few laughs in the show. A special recognition goes to Mary Kolleth as Fiona, Jonas’ friend and would-be romantic interest. Kolleth brings a great naturalness to her role. The acting in the show truly brought the story to life.
The technical elements of the show elevated it to an engrossing experience. Director and scenic designer Angie Noah deserves much credit for devising a set that expresses the sameness necessary for the show. Mary Whelan Swift, Patricia Blakey, and Glecia Tatum strikingly brought the set into being with a washed and marbled look. The lights of Bailey Banks were wonderful. She was able to communicate “sun,” “sunburn,” “cold,” ‘love,” and “pain” in short and clear succession. The communication of ideas and concepts was aided and enhanced by the sound design of L’Oreal Hartwell. The grey-scale and staid costume design of Robin Noah successfully communicated the lack of choice among the citizens as the show requires. Outside of some mishaps with a couple props that distracted from the action on the stage, the technical aspects flowed well.
Director Angie Noah had her good and questionable moments. Her ability to tell a story with her direction is clear. She made great use of the giant screen center stage, where memories and announcements are shared. Noah was able to get some good performances out of some of her less-experienced actors. The final stage picture is gorgeous. Some of the blocking in scenes between Jonas and the Giver, though, seemed unmotivated, busy, and distracting. Actors standing and sitting, walking around with no obvious purpose diminishes the movements that matter. Her best scenes were with the family when the space was confined.
The show is a sight and an engrossing story. The acting and technical elements raise this to a show worth seeing. If you feel comfortable facing the weather, I would. I did, in fact, and I’m glad I did.