TEEN AMBASSADOR: ZANE COX| MARCH 2, 2017
What will life be like on Earth in 300 years? Will life continue to go on in the same manner as it does in the present day, or will drastic changes to society occur over time? This question is answered at least in part by Lois Lowry’s 1993 science fiction novel The Giver. The book explores a dystopian town set in the 24th century, and a young boy who is given a special assignment. The book has spawned several stage adaptations and was made into a film in 2014. The original book uses simple language that allows easy reading, and borrows many dystopian themes from other novels such as The Hunger Games and 1984.
The performance that I had the pleasure of attending was a strange yet enjoyable experience – instead of watching the events unfold from the seats in the theater, close to 100 chairs were set up on the stage of the Zeiterion itself. This allowed the audience to get up close and personal with the producer of the show, who answered questions and engaged in discussions about the philosophy of the book before and after the performance. Questions were also answered by the sole actress in the show, who demonstrated numerous times her skill of being able to play multiple characters at once.
The Giver is set in a far-future village known as the Community. The Community at first appears to be theoretically utopian, but is soon revealed to be far from flawless. The system known as “precision of language” is supposedly the most efficient method of speaking, but deems words such as “love” to be “unspecific” and “obsolete”. This and many other aspects of the community result in the citizens becoming oppressed and nearly emotionless. The protagonist, Jonas, lives with his mother, father, and sister, and is set to attend the “Ceremony of Twelves”, in which the 12-year-old children receive their Assignments (or jobs) for the rest of their lives. Jonas’ father also brings in an infant named Gabriel, to see how he thrives with a family. At the Ceremony, Jonas is given a special job known as the Receiver of Memory, the person in the Community who retains the memories of past generations.
Jonas meets the previous Receiver (who now asks to be called the Giver), and receives many memories over the course of his training. These memories include color (as the community is entirely monochrome), snow, sunshine, and love. As only Jonas can understand these concepts, and isn’t allowed to tell anyone else about them, he becomes distant from his friends and family. A girl named Rosemary was originally set to be the next receiver, but eventually filed for something called “Release”. Jonas initially assumes being Released means being exiled from the Community, but soon learns that in truth it’s actually lethal injection. After Jonas learns that Gabriel is set to be Released, he hatches an escape plan with the help of the Giver, and escapes the Community with Gabriel. After hiking for some time, the pair begin to freeze in a torrid blizzard, until Jonas finds a house with many people waiting for them, and filled with music and Christmas decorations. It is left uncertain whether Jonas actually encounters the house, or if it’s only a memory from the Giver replaying in his head as he freezes to death.
It’s one thing to adapt a play from a book with such macabre and surreal themes, but it’s quite another to script the play for one person. The actress for this performance was able to distinctly voice every character in the script (which features lines directly from the original novel), as well as doing occasional narration. Voices and faces are only half of the equation, however – the other side of putting on a believable show is having dynamic body language, and our actress demonstrated just that. Each character was given their own posture, from the twitchy, skittish movement of Jonas to the crippled hobble of the Giver.
The post-show discussion tossed around many interesting questions brought up by the audience – Did Jonas and Gabriel really escape the Community? If so, did they truly find the house? Why can’t the rest of the Community receive the memories like Jonas? In my view, the most interesting question discussed was whether the Community would be considered a utopia or dystopia. At first, the thought of it being a utopia seemed like a far-fetched idea, until points were raised about the state of the citizens in the community. The people living there are completely unaware of certain concepts – love, colors, sunshine, snow. However, their inability to perceive these things isn’t upsetting to them – if anything, it makes everything easier for them. The people in the Community don’t need these concepts to feel content with their lives, and though their emotions are most likely fabricated, they are still “real emotions” nonetheless. We’re happy living in the real world, but perhaps the things and concepts we know to exist are just a small fraction of all the concepts in the universe – we just don’t know it.
In any event, The Giver’s stage adaptation was a very interesting and enjoyable journey into a dystopian reality, and was really the first time that I’d been exposed to the difficult yet rewarding act of the one-man-band style of performing demonstrated in this play. I would come back to the Zeiterion for another one of these up-close-and-personal events any time, and I hope to see more to come.