Although it was awarded the prestigious Newberry Medal in 1994, Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver appears frequently on lists of ‘most banned books’ at schools throughout the country. The book, adapted for the stage by playwright Eric Coble, is currently being performed by Metro Theater Company at Edison Theatre.
Metro’s artistic director Carol North believes the play tells an important story. “I think it’s interesting that the book has been banned in some places,” she says. “When things provoke deep thought and don’t serve up easy answers—particularly when there is a young person at the core of the story—that can make people nervous, especially well-meaning adults who think that kids need to be protected. But my view—and certainly the mission of Metro Theater Company—is that young people deserve thought-provoking material. They need opportunities to think deeply with adults about the most important issues and questions.”
The Giver centers on 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a futuristic Utopian society. Because of the performers’ schedules, all of the children in the play were ‘double-cast,’ North says, including Jonas. “Casting is a funny thing whether it’s with adults or kids. There’s a kind of chemistry that a director is always looking for,” she explains. “With the character of Jonas, for instance, we were looking for young men with a sense of vulnerability, and also a serious side that would reflect Jonas’s inquisitive and curious soul.” The two young men who are playing the role are very different from one another, North adds, but they both have those qualities.
The Jan. 22 performance celebrates a significant career milestone for resident artist Nicholas Kryah, who stars in the title role. “When Nick takes to the stage that evening, it will be his 5,000th performance with Metro,” North says. “He’s an amazingly versatile actor who has played a wide range of characters from classics to comedy in his 34 years with the company.” In addition to being an actor, Kryah is an accomplished writer. “His treatment of Beowulf, which toured nationally for more than five years, is a signature piece for Metro Theater Company. He’s also a designer and a remarkably inventive craftsman.”
North says she had Kryah in mind for the title role from the beginning. “Part of choosing a play is imagining it in the director’s mind, so even though the story is compelling, I had a bit of a trump card in my pocket because I knew that we had a wonderful actor for the Giver.”
Although North usually envisions a play unfolding in a certain way, she says the vision changes throughout the production process. “That’s always my experience as a director. There are many concepts that you hatch early, and then conversations with designers begin to refine and inform them. I so rely on collaborators and I don’t know a director who doesn’t. That’s the great joy of working in the theater—what we do together is only possible because we work together.”
North says sound engineering and design were very important for this production. “Coble’s adaptation is rich with sound, so when the Giver transmits a memory of something to Jonas, how does that get manifested on stage? How do we create theatrical sound that fills the memory and brings it to life?” North asks. “It’s what we create on stage that moves into the space between the audience and the actors—that imaginative space that we share. That’s where theater happens. Each performance is different, every audience is different. That’s the rare gift of live theater that film will never reproduce—ever, ever, ever!” LN
On the Cover: Metro Theater Company brings Lois Lowry’s award-winning novel The Giver to Washington University’s Edison Theatre this month. Performances continue through Jan. 23, with weekday matinees for student groups at special pricing. Sponsored by National Endowment for the Arts, Missouri Arts Council, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Regional Arts Commission, Arts & Education Council, PNC Bank and The Westin St. Louis. For ticket information call 935-6543 or visit edisontheatre.wustl.edu/tickets.
Illustration courtesy of Metro Theater Company. Cover design by Dawn Stremlau