“The Giver”

Play:        “The Giver”

Group:        Metro Theater Company

Venue:        Edison Theatre at Washington University

Dates:        January 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23

Tickets:    From $10 to $16; contact 314-935-6543 or www.metrotix.com

Story:    Jonas enjoys an idyllic life with his parents and younger sister Lily.  They are comfortable and content in their efficient existence, and Jonas has fun as well with his friends at school.  A big time is coming, though:  Jonas and several of his pals among “the 11s” are about to enter the world of “the 12s,” at which point they will receive their life’s assignment from The Community.

In Jonas’s case, however, it’s a very rare occasion, because he has been tapped to be the “Receiver of Memory,” which is allotted only to one individual every generation or so.  Jonas receives his instructions and soon begins training after school with the current Receiver, known also as “The Giver.”  Jonas begins to absorb memories, of pain and pleasure, of unknown treats such as rainbows and music and sunshine…and emotions.  When Jonas becomes increasingly troubled with what he knows, and with an impending decision about Gabe, a baby being nurtured by his father temporarily, he decides to take brash action and risk the consequences.

Highlights:    “The Giver” marks the third collaboration between Metro Theater Company and Edison Theatre, following presentations of “Hana’s Suitcase” in 2007 and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 2009.  This play by Eric Coble is an adaptation of a novel by Lois Lowry that was honored with the Newbery Award for children’s literature.  The production by Metro Theater, barely more than an hour long, does justice to Coble’s crisp, finely nuanced script and Lowry’s moving story under artistic director Carol North’s insightful guidance.

Other Info:    Nicholas Kryah, who will be making his 5,000th performance with Metro Theater during January, provides a nicely etched rendering of the title character, filling him with the burden of responsibility of all collective memories in this disturbing Utopia gone awry.  He also plays well off the young actor portraying Jonas, who was Mitchell List at the Sunday afternoon performance on opening weekend.  List, who displayed considerable style and composure in the pivotal part, rotates with Christian Probst in various presentations.

    There’s fine support by David Wassilak and Stephanie Strohman as the eerily mindless Father and Mother, while Eddie Webb adds the stern, disciplined voice of the Chief Elder (in the hooded personage of Harold Thompkins) in handing out life assignments for members of “the 12.”  In the opening Sunday performance, Sydney Dorton, Elijah Brown and Anna Nielsen gave appealing interpretations in the roles of the impish Lily, Jonas’s amiable pal Asher and his charming friend Fiona, respectively, with Nielsen doubling as a failed Receiver from a decade prior.  Sarah Koo, Ian Miller and Berklea Going rotate with the aforementioned in those respective parts.

    Dunsi Dai’s set wonderfully illustrates Lowry’s fable, with a massive book serving as a bed in The Giver’s abode, which is surrounded with a series of gray book shelves that wondrously become illuminated with color as Jonas absorbs additional memories, courtesy of John Wylie’s affecting lighting design that also adds poignant touches to a sunset or a rainbow beyond Dai’s series of gray hanging strips.

Lou Bird’s costumes and Strohman’s props all play convincingly into the dreary, drab and repetitive lives of The Community’s citizens.  Beckah Reed’s choreography allows the young performers to express their characters’ feelings, while Rusty Wandall’s sound design brings a haunting undertone to the action on stage, complemented by some impressive artistry by musician Lance Garger on percussion, xylophone and other instruments.

    “The Giver” is a polished and intriguing presentation that should enchant children and adults alike with its cautionary tale.

Rating:    A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.