‘The Giver’ is a capital idea for travelers

Arts & Entertainment

‘The Giver’ is a capital idea for travelers

Denver Center stages winning adaptation of Lowry’s novel
Philip Pleasants (The Giver) and Alastair Hennessy (Jonas) star in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of “The Giver.”

Anxiety is in the air as Jonas approaches his 12th birthday. Who wouldn’t be nervous when your life’s occupation will be announced at a special ceremony for all children hinging on adulthood?

That’s the opening scene in the adaptation of Lois Lowry’s seminal novel for young adults, The Giver. Lowry wrote the book in 1993 and won the Newbery Medal for her utopian vision with its clearly marked shadow. Eric Coble adapted the work for the Oregon Children’s Theatre and now Edward Lapine directs for the Denver Center of the Performing Arts.

“The Giver” closes out an impressive fall lineup that included a new adaptation of “The Three Musketeers,” another coming-of-age story of a happier and more robust nature.

The title role of “The Giver” is played by Denver company stalwart Philip Pleasants. Here he is even older and more frail that his King Lear of a few years ago. Stooped, white-haired and wise, The Giver keeps the memories of his people. By choice, they have abandoned all things disturbing to the emotions – above all, color, music and memory.

Set in the future, the norm is now comfort, peace and tranquility. Only The Giver knows pain and sorrow, beauty and ugliness. Only he can transmit the same to young Jonas (Jackson Garske) so that the community can live in the Sameness.

On a gray, stylized set, the Denver production evolves from a chatty but bland family dinner to a formal ceremony assigning adult roles. When Jonas visits his mentor, The Giver transmits memories one by one, first snow, later sunlight. He also introduces the boy to a colorful library of books with unexpected results. The trajectory of the play cleaves closely to the novel and is brilliantly realized with short, concentrated scenes and film projections to suggest the memories and the landscape of escape.

For almost a decade, Lowry’s book has been standard reading in middle schools across the country. It’s a brilliant evocation of the bridge from childhood to adulthood, or as Lowry calls it in another book: “The Beginning of Sadness.” The work also has been controversial, primarily because it includes themes of loss and death. In Jonas’ world, death is referred to with a euphemism: release. The Denver production treats all these themes with sensitivity and clarity.

“The Giver” provided a stunning contrast to “The Three Musketeers,” the famous high-spirited fantasy of a young man who makes good in Paris. I was lucky to see the final performance of a new adaptation. It immediately plunges d’Artangnan (Ben Rosenbaum) into the action at a time when dueling has been outlawed in France. That doesn’t stop him or his colleagues (remember “One for all and all for one”?) On a colorful and flexible set, the lads careened through regimental barracks, Parisian streets, the royal court, a tavern and Milady’s boudoir. Rising to every insult, the Musketeers pull out their swords, not their muskets. Credit combat choreographer Gregory Hoffman for splendid fight scenes, and kudos to Charles Pasternak and John Hutton for unforgettable portrayals of King Louis and Cardinal Richelieu.

Would that Alexandre Dumas’ coming-of-age story had a longer run. It made for a telling contrast with “The Giver.”

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

New History Colorado Center opens in Denver

The Colorado History Museum is coming of age in a big way. Now called History Colorado Center, the museum is an enormous new building that opened last spring and will soon unveil a major exhibition titled “Living West.”

On a recent visit, two unexpected Durango-related events made the state’s southwestern landscape, and history come alive. In the Anschutz Hamilton Hall, a multistory atrium, The Great Map of Colorado fills the entire floor. A Time Machine straight out of a Jules Verne novel moves around and plays video stories from the state’s history.

For our corner of the world, the tale of how Mesa Verde became a national park begins with the scientific expedition of Gustaf Nordenskiöld, his subsequent trial, release and the increasing pressure that led to national park status. It’s of keen interest to me, because my late husband and I spent 10 years researching and writing an extensive biography of Nordenskiöld. At the Center, he’s recognized, as he should be, as a key figure in Colorado history.

“Colorado Stories” is a major permanent exhibition on the second-floor. It features eight sections; Silverton and its mining history has the biggest and most impressive display. Another surprise: Duane Smith, professor emeritus at Fort Lewis College, narrates the Silverton film. Then you may enter a mining cage for a simulated ride down into Sunnyside Mine. It’s the most elaborate of the eight exhibits with interactive components including a dynamite test.

Designed for families, the new center offers continuous programming including films, lectures and live Chautauqua performances of key figures in our state’s history.

If you go

“The Giver,” a play based on the novel by Lois Lowry, adapted by Eric Coble, directed by Edward Lapine, through Thursday in the Ricketson Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $27 available by phone at (303) 893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.

The History Colorado Center is located at 1200 Broadway, one block from the Denver Art Museum. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission is free for members, $10 for adults with discounts for seniors, students and children. For more information, visit www.HistoryColoradoCenter.org.

‘The Giver’ is a capital idea for travelers

Philip Pleasants (The Giver) and Alastair Hennessy (Jonas) star in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of “The Giver.”
Reader Comments
click here to add your event
Durango ~ Events
click here to add your event
Durango ~ Events