"We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others."
~ Lois Lowry, The Giver
Lowry's young adult novel has been shaping readers in English classrooms since its' 1993 release. The dystopian novel tells the story of a community which has erased its' history and any opportunity for choice, in an attempt to create a perfect society. Jonas, at a mere 12 years old, is selected to receive all of the memories. His world bursts into life as he recalls the exhilaration of sledding and the warmth of family, as well as the pain of starvation and the fear of wartime.
The story spiked in popularity with the 2014 movie adaptation. Now, five years later, Waukesha Civic Theatre's vision for the classic takes the stage through May 19th. Having been inspired by Milwaukee's First Stage Children's Theatre performance of the same in 2007, director Katie Lynne Krueger describes the show as "captivating and thought-provoking".
Chance Wall and Keleous Lange. All photos courtesy of Van James Photography.
WCT's production features a large youth ensemble, from elementary through high school. They make up the children of the Community, the life force in the grey world. While the play is quite literally devoid of emotion, the children embody the possibility of change.
Chance Wall plays the leading role with astounding maturity. Wall gives a snapshot of Jonas' transition from obedience and naïveté to courage and curiosity, a journey which is only just beginning by the play's end. The young actor showcases considerable potential for becoming an eventual force in the theatre scene.
Michael Chobanoff and Chance Wall.
Michael Chobanoff counters the youthful presence with a seasoned performance as The Giver himself. His interpretation is deeply empathetic. His grapple with his hesitancy to give the painful memories alongside the joy gives the mysterious character a tangible streak of humanity.
The greatest highlight of the performance, however, is unmistakably the projection work of Breanne Brennan. Layered upon Michael Talaska's angular, greyscale set, Brennan's designs are more so felt than seen. As The Giver introduces Jonas to experiences, the audience is submerged into the moment alongside him through the fragmented flashes of color and movement. The result is a physical immersion into Lowry's vivid descriptions.
The Giver questions the balance between necessary control and the power of choice. Emotions can be imprisonment and liberation both. Krueger's direction embraces the ambiguity of Lowry's text. This show is different than the many farces which have tread the boards at WCT, serving not only as entertainment, but a call to examine yourself and your own place on a spectrum of conformity and freedom.