In this community, every child at 12 years old is given his or her role in life. Young Jonas is singled out to be the person who knows the true history of humankind, with its wars and suffering and hatred, and its music and color and beauty. Why this culture wants to preserve these things I'm not quite sure. In any case, Jonas is to learn them from his mentor, the Giver. But the Giver and Jonas decide that their community would be better off if they returned to true human lives. And somehow, if Jonas refuses his assigned role and escapes from the community, this true humanity will be restored – for what that's worth. And it will cost Jonas more than he knows.
You can see another variation on the exploration of what it means to be human at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in Walter Mosley's The Fall of Heaven. Eric Coble's piece is being done by the Metro Theater Company. Whatever one thinks of the piece itself, Metro has always been brilliant at staging pieces that are out of the ordinary and that call for serious exercise of the imagination, both by those creating the piece and those experiencing it.
Carol North directs The Giver. Dunsi Dai, John Wylie, Lou Bird, Stephanie Strohman, and Rusty Wandall design the sets, lights, costumes, props, and sound. Each ingeniously presents just enough to stimulate our imaginations so that we complete what is partially given. Lance Garger adds a powerful live musical score.
Long-time company member Nicholas Kryah is the obvious choice for the Giver, kind, rigorous, troubled, paternal. David Wassilak and Stephanie Strohman play the parents in Joshua's family with sweet reasonableness. The young people have been double cast. I saw Mitchell List as Jonas, Sydney Dorton as his little sister Lily, and Elijah Brown and Anna Nielsen as his friends Asher and Fiona. All are confident and convincing. Eddie Webb is the voice of the Chief Elder, seen on stage in the person of Harold Tompkins, and Janice Feagre Cosby is the voice of the Announcer who calls the community to its gatherings.
If the story of The Giver has some logical flaws and lies some distance from our reality, Metro Theater Company makes it a piece of theatre that fascinates and intrigues for its brief hour on the stage. Performances take place in Washington University's Edison Theatre through January 23, 2011. Tickets are available at the Edison box office, 314-935-6543.