REVIEW: The Giver at the IRT

The IRT is one of our favorite theatres in Indy.

The IRT is one of our favorite theatres in Indy.

After reading the book as a child and seeing the movie just last year, I was excited to see Lois Lowry’s Newberry Medal-winning YA novel The Giver was coming to the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

The story is about a future society where daily medications essentially render citizens without any capacity to recognize or make decisions, even simple ones like recognizing colors. However, there is one man, “The Giver,” who has been entrusted with all the memories and abilities of humans in this pre-dystopian society, and is responsible for training his successor by transferring these experiences to young Jonas. The idea is that The Giver serves as counsel to the Elders and that all these memories are contained in one person so society never has to feel, decide or truly ever see again.

That’s a pretty complicated task to translate to the stage, and I’m afraid that unless you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you might find the IRT’s rendition a bit difficult to follow. The somewhat sparse set and props reminded me of my ninth grade play, Thorton Wilder’s Our Town, which required the audience to have great imagination and the theater department have no budget, as the actors mimed most everything.

Our first trip to the "Upperstage."

Our first trip to the “Upperstage.”

It’s worth noting the IRT production is on the Upperstage, which is not the larger, street-level venue probably more familiar with theatergoers. While cozy and intimate, the stage is simple and, upon first glance, impressive with its files of knowledge protruding from the back wall.

But to keep up with what’s going on, you better be paying attention. That reddish-orange light? That’s Jonas experiencing a sunset for the first time. That blue light? It’s the cold. Granted, the production crew sprinkles in audio cues (like a sled “wooshing” down a hill or tranquil ocean waves), but it seems like the book just doesn’t translate well to the stage. Again, part of that is the stage. With no set changes, the audience has to use its imagination in some scenes, and while I’m not an opponent of using ones imagination, I fear this show might not be for everybody. It probably didn’t help that we saw the phenomenal Good People at the IRT just a couple of weeks ago.

At 90 minutes, the play is certainly on the shorter side and the actors themselves and costumes are commendable, but they’re working with material that is probably best left for the book or movie. The show continues through March 1.

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