THE GIVER – AN ORWELLIAN TALE FOR THE YOUNGER AUDIENCE

SHORT TAKE:

Dystopian, cautionary tale of the quietly, dysfunctional society, which has chosen the security of “Sameness” over independent thought, strong emotions, or variety, and the boy tasked to be the new “Receiver” of all the memory experiences everyone else has rejected.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Appropriate for any and all ages but the sophisticated concepts and deliberately monochromatic presentation may be unengaging for younger audience members.

LONG TAKE:

 

The Giver, is a societal fiction parable based on the children’s novel of the same name by Lois Lowry, which follows the character arc of a boy named Jonas. Jonas, played by Abram Conner, lives in a society which has rejected individuality and Free Will for the unquestioned “security” of Sameness. They believe that to be given a choice is to risk making a mistake and enduring pain.

To that end there are no strong emotions, memories of anything except what needs to be known for their chosen jobs, or even color. Differences are not tolerated and those who fall outside of the exacting parameters of what is acceptable: the old, the lame, the unhappy, even twins for the “confusion” they could bring – are relegated to Elsewhere by an unseen but loudspeaker commanding “Committee”. No one is to ask where “Elsewhere” is, there is no reference to any higher authority than the Committee, and God, as well as His gift of Free Will, by default, has been excluded as well. As a result, morality is what the Committee says it is and all acts commanded by them are accepted. A chilling thought with chilling consequences.

Jonas is surprised, (which surprise is apologized for by the Chief Elder), by being chosen as the next Giver. The Giver’s job is to hold, then pass on to the next Giver, the unwanted knowledge and experiences of the human race. The Giver is an advisor to the unseen but unquestionably obeyed, Committee, providing them with perspective they do not have, when faced with situations for which they are unprepared. For example, his is the voice of reason to not shoot down a plane which has accidentally overshot their air space.

But while there is no violence or discord, there is also no mercy or love. Babies are produced by what one might consider “brood mare” humans and then assigned to a parental unit constructed and assigned by the “Committee”. No natural births or normal intimacies are permitted but routinely squelched with medication. Only Jonas and the Giver feel anything deeply.

This is a brave and difficult to play to produce as emotions, interactions, and even colors are muted to beige and gray. The only meaningful actions take place in Jonas’ mind as the Giver gifts him with memories of things like snow and hills, which have been eliminated with “climate control” and geographical obliteration.

Director Kris Webster had the challenging task of creating a world without hues or music and few sounds outside of the actors subdued voices. Only as Jonas learns of the world “before” does he emote or perceive color.

Abram Conner, as Jonas, carries a large load on his young shoulders as the primary conveyor of emotion and personal complexity, having to act out what neither the other characters nor the audience can see. Scott Holtzman, as the Giver, is the weary voice of one who has been burdened too long with all the joys and woes in the troubled past of the world and functions as the one source of true fatherhood to Jonas. Jordan Gribble plays Jonas’ “assigned” father, Taylor Novak-Tyler his chosen mother and Annie Hachtel as his selected sister. Kane Todd and Ashley Dickerson are Jonas’ school companions, Aaron Webster is the Chief Elder and Margaret Martin is one of the aging members of the community. The troupe has the imposing task of having to rein in every actors’ instinct to emote, in order to portray this Orwellian environ, which has more in common with 1984 than you might expect in a child’s story.

The props are minimalistic as in Our Town with chairs and tables and a sled being brought on and off as the needs be. The mood is very reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery with an air of over-supervised gloom hanging over the story. The clothes are gray and unadorned, the furniture is drab and featureless, even the books are (at first) without color.

A play which includes veiled topics of euthanasia, failed tries at utopian societies, and Free Will is strong fare for a story aimed at a youth demographic, but The Giver playing February 8 – 18, 2019 at ACTS Theatre, will lend (see what I did there?) itself to spirited conversation in the debate about the cost of relinquishing one’s Free Will in the name of what appears to be the Ultimate Nanny State.

So, the moral might suggest, when thinking about the possibilities of a world without conflict or pain, without discord or obstacles to overcome ….. be careful what you wish for.

If there was only one movie I could have on a desert island………

……….I would choose It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). It is astonishing to me  how many people have never heard of this classic. It is the perfect movie: funny, warm, family friendly, yet deals with issues from suicide to accusations of embezzlement and adultery.  Faithful to Catholic teaching yet respectful to all religions. Diverse population without being politically correct. Time travel – of a sort as we review a man’s life. LARGE ensemble cast but every one three dimensional, each given at least one memorable defining moment. Beautifully and purposefully filmed in black and white with shots that take advantage of the natural shadings the way a master artist might lovingly shape a charcoal sketch of their family. Tragedy, hope, despair and redemption. Thoughtful, witty and moments of slapstick. This REEL life is much like REAL life. Some of the most memorable characters you will ever encounter, some of the best acting you will ever see, shots long enough to impress Alfred Hitchcock… forgive an apparent hyperbole but — it really does deal with the meaning of life, and the danged thing makes me cry EVERY — SINGLE — TIME — I — WATCH — IT!

The story starts in Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve. Snow is falling and as you pan over the night of this idyllic town you hear in voice over the prayers of men, women and children on behalf of a man named George Bailey. Then we hear a conversation taking place among Saint Joseph and his superior and….Clarence – an angel Second Class, at which point we immediately understand this movie, while dealing with serious adult and even theological issues, will not mire itself in the somber. One of the brilliances of this film is the way it balances humor with the serious – and in such a way that is completely natural.

You will meet your friends and neighbors, family and — yourself. There is something of the familiar and relatable in all the characters. Bert the cop (Ward Bond of many war movies and old Western TV shows), Ernie the taxi driver (Frank Faylen). (And yes, this is the origin of the Sesame Street characters’ names.) Mr. Gower the druggist (H.B. Warner), Uncle Billy the eccentric (Thomas Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame), Violet the local vamp (Gloria Grahame), Mary Hatch (Donna Reed – the perfect homemaker LONG before Martha Stewart) plays the girl next door, Peter Bailey (Samuel S. Hinds) – owner of the local Building and Loan…and of course George, his son, the protagonist of the movie played by none other than Jimmy Stewart…and many more. The actors are either famous or classic character actors whose faces you will recognize if you have ever haunted TV Land, Turner Classics or just watched old favorite movies with your grandparents.

While the movie follows, in a very Our Town kind of intimate but universal way, the details of life in this small mythical but archetype town, the plot traverses timeless struggles about the definition of success, responsibility versus one’s personal desires, love versus lust, fame versus family, and with a protagonist who is definitely not perfect. He is truly an Everyman. George wants to be a SUCCESS – build skyscrapers and bridges – but, well, life happens, and instead he builds modest but beautiful houses for a lower income population. He wants to be famous but is pretty much only known by his friends and family. And then there is Mr. Potter (THE Lionel Barrymore, in REAL life the patriarch of three generations of distinguished actors including Drew of ET the Extraterrestrial fame) – the clear antagonist who is the “richest man in town” and who hates/envies the Building and Loan in general and the Baileys in particular. The whys don’t really matter but are easy speculation – the Baileys are competitors for Potter’s banking business and the Baileys have what he can’t – love, home and family.

It is hard to talk about this movie without giving away essential details but I do try to be VERY careful to avoid spoilers. So I won’t say much more but to tell you that this is a film that I would recommend to ANYone.  Child, adult, priest, grandmother, roommate, your 5 year old little sister and your Army buddy.

OK How does this relate to homeschooling? Well, I’ll tell you. I saw It’s a Wonderful Life probably half a dozen times when I was a kid then probably once a year for every one of the 33 years of our marriage. That makes dozens of times. And I plan to see it in the future every year that God gives me. I no more tire of it than I would the face of an old friend. And I see something new in it EVERY time I watch it.

Bryan and I  have been homeschooling for 24 years. As I explain to newbie homeschoolers, homeschooling is not a curriculum, it is a way of life, seeing everything as an opportunity to teach your child something. And I can tell you that not a week has gone by since my adulthood, especially since we have been having kids, without SOMETHING from that movie informing a moment, a thought, a decision. It has inspired me to let an unfair comment go unrevenged, a temptation be avoided, assure an unwanted obligation was lovingly fulfilled. I cannot think of a single challenge in life that could not benefit from an example set by at least one of the characters in this movie. What feats of strength will love for a brother help a man perform? What burdens can be born guided by a sense of honor? What trials can be endured with a sense of humor and just the smallest spark of love for another person? Simple honesty, trust in a parent, the keeping of a confidence, courage to keep a friend from making a terrible mistake, love for your spouse and child, understanding what makes life worth living………

These are lessons that are beyond school books.

I am honored to have seen this movie and to be able to make it the subject of my very first post of my very first blog. I hope Mr. Frank Capra is pleased.

BTW – there was a remake with Marlo Thomas in the lead called It Happened One Christmas, but sadly and all due respect to both Ms. Thomas and her wonderful father, Danny, who founded St Jude’s Hospital – um — just see the 1946 version.

5-26-15