The cast of “The Giver” never stops moving. Presented by Edison Theatre and Metro Theater Company, this production of “The Giver” acts as if walking is outlawed in this community and sprinting is the only legal form of transportation. And as the characters fall into the whirlwind motion of the play, Jonas (Mitchell List) is asked to train to be the next Giver, the keeper of the world’s memories. After each lesson with the current Giver (Nicholas Kryah), he runs over to a set on the other side of the stage, where he plays an increasingly insignificant role in his family. In other words, his character gets stuck at the dinner table.
At first, Jonas always learns something new when he’s training with the Giver, but the play stubbornly insists that he spends half his time with his family too, and there’s nothing gained from these redundant interactions. And unfortunately, the characters look like they are running on a hamster wheel.
In the uncommon spots where the plot actually takes significant turns, the perpetual motion crudely glosses over them. When Jonas first learns what it is like to ride a sled through a wispy winter night, the audience is pulled in right with him for the moment. But when Jonas revisits the memory and learns that the sled is red, which is the first color he’s ever encountered, the play’s constant whirring distracts from what should be a critical moment. By the end of the play, Jonas obviously becomes the hero, but you’d be hard-pressed to reason why he should save the world besides the fact that he’s the most convenient candidate.
Eric Coble’s script-adaptation of Lois Lowry’s acclaimed novel strikes this rare balance of blunders. It rushes through the moments that should be given time and miraculously plods through the moments that should be ephemeral. In no way is this supposed to be a review of the book. The play has flaws on a very basic level.
Thankfully the actors make the most of their lines and give good performances all around. As Jonas’s father, David Wassilak plays his character with a perfect amount of earnestness that underscores his shady job. Kryah plays the Giver as a tired, wise man. List injects Jonas with the necessary humanness to almost trick the audience into accepting his undistinguished character as the play’s hero.
Lowry’s big questions remain intact, mercifully. Is a “practical” community the same thing as a “perfect” community? The perfect community will always hit a snag when you enforce uniformity by eliminating free will. The play has these unnerving touches that linger in that moral gray area between perfection and practicality. The way the play introduces color is surprising, and I won’t ruin it here. Also, Jonas’ family gives a strange giggle every time he visits the dinner table, and it is both jovial and unsettling. It’s too bad that the laugh can only be there for a moment—the next scene is on the other side of the stage, and the characters have to sprint there.