Young Cast handles weighty subjects in WCT’s “The Giver”
By Marilyn Jozwik
Published May 7, 2019
“The Giver,” based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult novel, is a rather disturbing look at what life would be like if people had no choices, if everyone were the same.
The play, presented by Waukesha Civic Theatre, features a cast of mostly students who have fully invested in this dystopian story. Director Katie Krueger has a marvelous group to work with, who tell this story convincingly.
“The Giver” reveals a society that relies on Sameness to keep order and to protect themselves from their own choices. In other words, they have relinquished their freedom for security.
When the show opens, our protagonist, Jonas (Chance Wall), is getting ready for the Ceremony of Twelve, at which he will be assigned his life’s work by the Elders, with the Chief Elder (Diane Kallas) saying to each “Thank you for your childhood” before giving them instructions.
Jonas, however, is passed by and learns that he has been given a special job, that of Receiver of Memory. He will be trained by The Giver (Michael Chobanoff), who is looked to for advice and maintains all the memories of history, as the only books available to others are schoolbooks and rule books for each household. The Giver and Receiver both have access to a variety of books and ideas that the rest of the community do not have. Jonas learns the joy of a ride down a hill on a sled, but also the pain of a broken leg. He learns about hunger and war – unknown to this community of Sameness, which has no pain, no feelings, no color, no choices.
When Jonas experiences hunger, he asks, “What wisdom do you get from hunger?” The Giver tells him, “Without pain, I can’t advise.” The Giver also tells Jonas about love, to which he replies, “Love … I wish we still had that.”
In the end, Jonas returns to his family unit, Mother (Sandra Baker-Renick), Father (Bill Kirsch) and Sister Lily (Natalie Krogwold), with new ideas about the community’s structure which cause him to make some bold choices.
The play quite faithfully follows the book, which has become popular among young readers, including many in the cast, which we learned during the show’s talkback. Krueger mentioned that she had the young cast members imagine themselves living in this society and had them write their own rules and words of wisdom, which are posted around the auditorium.
The young performers did an outstanding job, especially Wall, whose Jonas character is thrown into the most difficult job of anyone in the community. Wall transforms Jonas from the cookie-cutter middle schooler whose entire life is spelled out for him, into one who suddenly is filled with unimaginable wisdom, knowledge and ideas from the ages. As The Receiver, Wall travels a gamut of emotions; he does so believably as The Giver shows him the beauty of colors and the joy of a sled ride, as well as the pain of hunger and war. The young Wall captures all the disparate emotions wonderfully, making the audience feel along with him.
As The Giver, Chobanoff is a kindly counselor, forming a fatherly bond with the conflicted Jonas.
Jonas’s family is also well-portrayed, including Krogwold’s Lily and the parental unit of Kirsch and Baker-Renick, who explained in the talkback that creating controlled characters with little emotion is harder than creating those with big personalities.
I also enjoyed the portrayal of Jonas’s friend Asher, played by Keleous Lange, as well as Grace Fischer’s Fiona. Both engaged well with their stage cohorts and conveyed convincing characterizations.
Michael Talaska’s simple set used geometric shapes for a dramatic effect. Breanne Brennan’s projections during The Giver and Receiver scenes also enhanced the production, as did Chris Meissner’s use of lighting to highlight characters and create moods.
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: “The Giver”
When: Through May 19
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Info/Tickets: 262-547-0708; www.waukeshacivictheatre.org