Jonas’ world is without color, risk or emotion. It is predictable. He is an innocent 11-year-old boy living a life without pain or discomfort. At the same time, he lives a life without true joy or discovery or wonder. By choice, Jonas’ entire community has lived this way for generations. Some would call it a utopian world. Others might call it dystopian.
When Jonas and his 11-year-old friends turn 12, they will be ceremoniously thanked for their childhood and assigned their destinies. Thanks for being a kid. Now, grow up. Here’s your life’s job.
In “The Giver,” at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, we are introduced to a controlled existence where life is a hollow, peaceful shell played out in bleak shades of gray. Human emotions (“stirrings”) are tamped down with medication. Even the climate is controlled to allow for ideal food cultivation and transportation.
The Giver is, in fact, a person. As the historian of the community, he resides in a museum-like dwelling, vibrant with color. The Giver has physically absorbed the emotions and events of all past generations. Their wars, sunrises, births, joys and pain - he embodies it all.
The Giver must pass it along to Jonas, the new apprentice Giver. It is not an easy transfer. For the first time, Jonas is introduced to pain, hunger and despair. He sees color, passion and love. Despite his communal upbringing, Jonas retains a modicum of humanity and begins to question the very foundation of his life. Enter hope.
Director Dawn Carter holds her troupe of young actors in check for this demanding and unusual work. As an ensemble, they clearly have respect for the script and each other. It’s impressive that there is no mugging or upstaging.
In fact, the entire production is impressive. The muted costuming, staging and sparse set keep the audience thirsty for a moment of defined color or clarity. We are asked to believe in a world without choice or decisions. We are relieved to learn that a 12-year-old boy has the innocent wonder and wisdom to make them.
“The Giver” runs through Saturday at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.