“The Giver,” now on the main stage of the Omaha Community Playhouse, is based on a dystopian novel I hadn’t read. And that leaves me in the dark about how its many readers will receive the play by Eric Coble.
I’d prefer to light the way to appreciation for Coble’s adaptation of Lois Lowry’s much-honored story that emphasizes the horrors of an ultra-protective utopian society that trades the pain of freedom for controlled sameness. But I’m distracted by a preview night performance that seemed less ready for prime time than any I can recall.
That impression was probably exaggerated by the many awkward scene changes that required stage hands to drag furnishings on and off stage. At times, they wore hooded “costumes” and at times they didn’t. At times, actors seemed to peek out to see if they were due on stage and at times they seemed to appear before they were required.
Rather than belabor the details of a dystopia that apparently bans all color in favor of bland grayness, lets zoom in on qualities that should help some viewers enjoy the play.
Cork Ramer plays the title character who is the keeper of memories of all that existed before and Stella Clark-Kaczmarek is Jonas, the 12-year-old assigned as the receiver of these memories.
They are the only two characters who must wrestle with the rules that govern this world. As the poet John Milton once declared, “God gave man the gift of reason to be his own chooser,” but the Chief Elder does all the choosing here, assigning life roles at The Ceremony of the Twelves.
Director Lisa Kerekes chose well in casting versatile veteran Ramer and the teen-age Stella as the only nuanced performers, sharing the stage with four other adults and nearly a dozen youngsters. I wish I could explain the function of a half dozen identified as the Everworld Crew but they at least served to provide the six some stage experience.
Giovanni Rivera and Katy Kepler, as the assigned (non-biological) parents of Jonas, reflected the loveless detachment of the community’s relationships. It was also exemplified when the Chief Elder (Ree Davis-Stone) thanked the 12-year-olds “for your childhood” as they accepted their life “assignments.”
Arguably the cruelest trick of terminology was the use of “release” to refer to the bureaucratic approval of deaths by murder for anyone ranging from babies to aging seniors.
The technical highlight of the production was provided by the projection on a large screen when The Giver shared both appealing and painful memories, from sledding in the snow and a rainbow to war and destruction. Although the director’s note focuses on the idea that we’re rushing toward such a dystopia “at an alarming pace,” anyone who watches news is hardly deprived of painful memories in our much less sheltered world.
“The Giver” runs through May 8 on the Hawks Mainstage Theatre of the Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays with tickets from $25 to $35 available at ticketomaha.com or by calling 402.553.0800.