Review: Prime Stage's THE GIVER Stays True to Novel

By: May. 18, 2016
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Imagine yourself in middle school again. It's quite difficult to fully embody the memory, seeing as how most of us were considerably shorter and much more ignorant about the world; but Prime Stage's production of The Giver provides visible introspection of ourselves through the character of Jonas, the 12-year-old protagonist superbly portrayed by CAPA sixth grader Will Sendera.

Based on the critically acclaimed Lois Lowry novel of the same name, The Giver examines a world of sameness, where precision of language and uniformity trump all. Growing up in this community, Jonas is about to turn twelve, the year when he and all the other children will receive job placement. His apprehensiveness culminates at the ceremony where he discovers that he has been selected as the next receiver of memory, working tirelessly under the Giver to understand everything that was and has been, generations before. This play, adapted by Eric Coble, stays true to the novel in many ways, focusing around the idea of "release" and death.

For young Jonas, coming to terms with some of the norms of his society are unbearable. Sendera's portrayal of this is quite remarkable; what this play has that the movie adaptation hasn't is realistic ages for the characters. Being the same age as Jonas in the story, Sendera fascinates the audience with his mature and professional demeanor. To see someone the age of Jonas embody the character adds to the poignancy of the conflicts he faces. This directorial choice, to cast Jonas and all the children age-appropriately, was extremely effective and well thought out.

His sister Lily, played by Sadie Primack, and friends Fiona and Asher, played by Grace Vensel and Micah Primack, respectively, join Jonas throughout his journey to right society's wrongs. All of their performances are top-notch for their ages and well deserving of the standing ovations they receive. Jonas' father, played by Ricardo Vila-Roger, is also as believably compassionate as he is ignorantly blind. Vila-Roger masters this balance between these two complexes. His wife, played by Zanna Fredland, is much stricter. Her robotic tone captures the ideal family unit mother, though her stoic nature leaves dialogue unnatural compared to the rest of the actors.

The Giver himself is what one would imagine: a man past middle age with a white beard, full of wisdom, filled with memories. Ken Lutz portrays this character and seems to bring the character from the novel to life.

With a minimalist set, generic props are multifunctional and used to fit whatever scene is being staged. The back wall, comprised of white panels, shows projections throughout the show. These are a nice touch to the appropriately drab set, but the projections do not reach their full potential. They are used but could have been better incorporated with the action on stage.

In general, this show is fantastic for children who have read The Giver in schools. On the same token, it suits adults in a different way. The thought-provoking material transcends age, as everyone will have a different take on the action as it unfolds on the New Hazlett Theater stage. The show will be released to Elsewhere on May 22, but performances run this weekend, with a sensory-friendly performance Saturday, May 21.

Photo Credit: Prime Stage

To see or not to see score: 6/9; Moderately Recommended Show


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