Moffat County theater examines love, life, pleasure, pain in ‘The Giver’
"The Giver" cast and crew
Cast Jonas: Sambu Shrestha The Giver: Maria Sanchez-Silva Mother: Tess Willems Father: Everett Jacobsen Lily: Juliet Hall Asher: Kasen Tansey Fiona: Alyssa Rodriguez Chief Elder: Abbie Hall Larissa: Hannah Vest Lisa: Ashleigh Wheeler Announcer: Nevaeh Allen Rosemary: Tayla Siminoe Community Members: Jade Kapferer, Samantha Bade, Hayle Letsinger, Kes Copeland, Nikki Brown, Millie Fritz, Jessica Womble, Winter Rogers
The vibrant red of a piece of fruit. The cool thrills of a sled ride through fresh snow. The ear-splitting terror of audio from wartime explosions.
These brief sensory experiences are something modern society might take for granted, but for someone who’s been numb to virtually everything, they can be completely life-altering.
Therein lies the many messages of the Moffat County High School spring play, “The Giver.”
The MCHS theater department presents Eric Coble’s stage adaptation of Lois Lowry’s young adult novel with shows this week at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, as well as a 1:30 p.m. Saturday matinee at MCHS, 900 Finley Lane. Tickets are $7 apiece.
The production depicts a futuristic community in which certain parts of life are simplified — the climate never changes, all members serve assigned functions, children are conceived with surrogates and placed with approved families.
Altogether, choices and emotions are minimal and rules are many.
A young member of this pleasant yet passionless place, Jonas (Sambu Shrestha), is on the verge of being given the job he’ll perform for the rest of his life.
But, he’s quite dumbfounded when he learns his new role will be as the Receiver of Memory, a unique career that will require solitude and special training from the current holder of the position (Maria Sanchez-Silva).
His new instructor promptly opens his eyes to exhilarating memories of the past, but with those come Jonas’s realization of how none of the people around him have any knowledge of how the world used to be. For that matter, the more he learns, the more he comes to see just how flawed his home is.
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The play is the final show for Shrestha, an MCHS senior.
“It’s pretty thrilling. because you want to go out with a bang,” he said. “I’m definitely appreciating that it’s a really bizarre experience.”
His role is nearly the polar opposite from Ponyboy Curtis, Shrestha’s starring role in last year’s “The Outsiders.” While Jonas is arguably more intelligent than the average adolescent, he is far more sheltered and naive and unaware of pain beyond a skinned knee.
“Each day with The Giver is something new, and just to experience it all is a little much for him,” he said.
As the title character, Sanchez-Silva portrays an aging beacon of wisdom, whose only job is to carry the burden of knowing how life used to be — good and bad. And, though the Receiver of Memory is meant to be a valued part of the community’s leadership, they have little say in most of its operations.
Still, with training someone new, hope endures that the next generation will be able to change minds.
“Giving the emotions to Jonas, that gives him the ability to go out and create more opportunities in the community,” she said.
Playing a part that is written as male in Lowry’s book and the 2014 film adaptation provides a new twist, Sanchez-Silva added.
“I think it gives it a different perspective,” she said.
Among the downsides of Jonas’s world is that people no longer have a perception of color. All costumes are black, gray and white, though the young protagonist begins to see new hues as part of his awakening.
That’s where the Moffat County lighting and sound crew comes in, as the technical elements of the play allow the audience to share the rush of excitement that comes when Jonas takes on new memories, with bursts of crimson, visions of snow, and more.
“It’s really our job to bring everything to life,” said crew member Hunter Petree. “War is a big one, we have explosions, flashing red lights, it’s all really intense, and we try to enhance that. We’re experimenting with a new kind of mold that gives us a rainbow. It’s nothing too exciting for some people on the outside, but it’s all new for us.”
Grace Pomeleo, the show’s director and MCHS’s theater and music teacher, said she considers the tech crew a “lead role” with how they boost everything happening onstage from the booth.
“It’s a huge creative challenge, but I think it’ll be really exciting for the audience to see how those things are pulled off,” she said.
Between the visual and audio and acting talents, it all comes together to present a debate — safety with many restrictions versus a riskier but richer life.
“The main conversation is, ‘Is it worth not having pain in life if you also don’t have joy?'” Pomeleo said. “It’s about being able to make choices, sometimes right sometimes wrong, but it’s all part of life.
After years of leadership turnover at Moffat County High School, students and staff will find some continuity in their newly selected principal.