‘The Giver’ offers insight into maturity

NEW ULM – Despite criticism that its subject matter may be inappropriate for young children, “The Giver,” a children’s novel by Lois Lowry, won the 1994 Newberry Medal and is part of many middle school reading lists.

Elementary education majors at Martin Luther College study the book as part of the curriculum, and many have fallen in love with the book.

Next weekend, the MLC Forum will present the Oregon Children’s Theatre (Portland, Oregon) adaptation of the book, done by Eric Coble and premiered in March 2006.

“The Giver”?is set in a society that is at first presented as utopian and gradually appears more and more dystopian, according to the Wikipedia article on the book. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the 12th year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives.

Jonas’ world is perfect, says a synopsis provided to The Journal by Kristi Koelpin, producer for the MLC play. Everything is under control and safe. There is no war or fear or pain. There are also no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the community. But when Jonas turns 12, he is chosen for special training from The Giver to receive and keep the memories of the community. The Giver is the only person who holds the memories of real pain and real joy. Now Jonas will learn the truth about life and the hypocrisy of his utopian world. Through an astonishing and moving adaptation, the audience is invited to discover what it means to grow up, to grow wise and to take control of your own destiny.

Koelpin notes that the book presents interesting challenges for the stage. The community of Sameness is devoid of color and emotion – and this lack can be difficult to portray. The MLC production – costumes, sets, props – is done in as neutral colors as possible. Only the Giver’s office has color. Color is added during the show, as characters begin to see it.

The actors – who in other performances for children would be tempted, or even called on, to “over-act” – in this show “under-act.” They attempt to convey the message in subtle ways, through their eyes or facial expressions.

The community has no memory of war – so it is not shown directly on stage – and the audience is experiencing it through Jonas’ reaction.

The play challenges the cast and the audience to think on a deeper level – to realize how many things we take for granted – the power to love, or the power to make choices, muses Koelpin.

The play was chosen by the MLC Forum board because it is based on literature, said Koelpin. The board opted to stay with a thematic idea, also doing other literature-based shows over the course of the year (including some based on fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm).

Patrick Loroff, who plays the Giver, auditioned for the part because he loved the book. He read it to students in grades seven and eight who told him he has “the Giver’s voice.” The play challenged Loroff to extend himself beyond musicals and comedy into heavy drama. The easy part? Working with the cast, said Loroff. The hard part? Conveying emotions with just your face.

The play features a cast of nine, noted Director Michael Koester. Rehearsals will have lasted six weeks by show time. The play will be shown to students in grades 5-12 from area schools during the day on Friday and to the public Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.

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