The setting grips you upon entering Indiana Repertory Theatre’s Upperstage — a wall of file cabinet drawers reflected onto the floor; sheets of paper strung on lines overhead, like laundry hung out or pendants? Unease creeps in. Lights dim, characters enter. Everyone wears the same kind of clothing. Jonas emerges as the spotlight character living in a perfectly sanitized world of shades of gray.
It’s an orderly, predictable lifestyle in an orderly climate — no highs, lows or sudden storms. People are polite, they seem happy. If they offend they ask forgiveness for the deviation from “nice” and are forgiven. Visual signs make communication perfectly clear. Kids don’t have to deal with “And what do you want to be when you grow up?” because at age twelve they’re told what their lifetime job is. Sounds lovely, peaceful.
Then something happens to Jonas and things go off-kilter. For the next 70 minutes, we are totally absorbed into a seeming utopia that’s showing signs of unraveling. IRT’s low-key, sensitive production shows what happens when outstanding actors inhabit an excellent dramatization of a thought-provoking book staged by a team of professionals.
Those of us who have read Lowry’s book are grateful for Eric Coble’s close adaptation. Those who have seen only the movie say it’s quite different in approach from the play they’ve just seen. What matters is leaving with a desire — nay, a need — to converse and to connect with the main themes. What kind of a world do we want to live in? Does personal choice matter? What is the true function of memory? When is one person’s civil disobedience a societal benefit?
Grayson Molin is amazing as Jonas. He and David Alan Anderson as The Giver play off each other with astounding grace. Bill Simmons as the loving, smiling Father prompts us to consider the importance of conscience and morality. Katie deBuys as Mother and Chief Elder maintains the status quo.
Jordan Pecar imbues Lily with muted feistiness of a younger child who is thoroughly comfortable but strives to fit in with her brother Jonas and his friends, believably played by Joseph Hock as Asher and Lola Kennedy as Fiona. Courtney Sale directs with clarity.