Bengal Theatre Co. Exploring New Worlds This Week

‘The Giver’ and ‘Gathering Blue’ Portray Dystopian Futures
Dec 05, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill The Bengal Theatre Co.

Many Southern Ocean County theatrical troupes are performing Christmas-based shows this holiday season, but this week the Bengal Theatre Co. of Barnegat High School is doing something completely different. First of all, the BTC is performing two plays – “The Giver” and “Gathering Blue” – instead of a classical Christmas musical. Secondly, while most Christmas-related productions are all light and love, the BTC show is an exploration of a dystopian future.

Penned by Eric Coble, the plays are based on two young-adult novels with the same titles by Lois Lowry. If you’ve never heard of Lowry, you might not have children. She’s written more than 30 children’s books and has won two Newberry Medals, one for “The Giver,” which had sold over 10 million copies worldwide as of 2014.

Lowry, now 80, is known for tackling sensitive subject matter such as racism, murder, the Holocaust and, in “The Giver” and “Gathering Blue,” the first two entries of “The Giver Quartet,” questioning authority. Not surprisingly, the reaction to “The Giver” was mixed – it is required reading at many middle schools in America but, at the same time, according to the American Library Association, was the 11th most challenged book of the 1990s.

Why did Bengal Theatre Co. director Kerry Bollenbach pick them for her school’s fall production?

“We had a huge turnout this year,” she explained, happy that so many kids were checking out theater as compared to last year, when the company had shrunk in size. “So we needed something with numerous casting opportunities.”

Doing two plays with mostly different casts provided those opportunities.

But are they, in any possible way, “Christmassy”? Well, remember, this isn’t a holiday production. It is a fall play.

“This is really, really different,” said Bollenbach.

“The Giver” was commissioned by the Oregon Children’s Theatre and has played to sold-out audiences there and at First Stage Milwaukee, Nashville Children’s Theatre, the Florida Repertory Theatre and the Indiana Repertory Theatre among others.

Jonas (Chris Wambach) has had a perfect life as a child. His world knows no pain, fear or war; everything is as ordered and as safe as it can be. But when he is 12, he is chosen for special training from “The Giver” (Geoffrey Bowen). Jonas has to receive and keep the memories of his community from the days before it became a controlled, utopian world where children are genetically engineered and raised by “Nurturers” and then, as they grow, assigned to careers.

The memories stun Jonas. He somehow recalls the thrill of sliding down a snow-covered hill on a sled. That was something Jonas had never done – his world would never allow something as exciting and possibly dangerous as that. Indeed, conformity, called “Sameness,” is so strictly enforced that even colors have disappeared so that he lives in a black and white community.

The rest of Jonas’ world needs to have its memories restored. But the only way that can happen is if Jonas leaves the community, at which time the memories will flood back into the people. But the Elders would never let him leave …

The rest of the cast of “The Giver” includes Demetrius Stamoulis, Jill Bopp, Sofia Faraldi, Fenix Applegate, Nick Faraldi, Janeiry Cruz, Abby Darbo and Emilie Guinan.

Kira (Liz Critelli) is the focus of “Gathering Blue.” She lives in an even more dystopian world than that of Jonas, a place where children are kept like animals and human life is cheap. Kira is a gifted weaver, so the Council of Guardians selects her to mend and embellish the ceremonial “Singer’s Robe,” a garment that tells the history of the world. But the more she mends, the more she learns. Can she use her newfound knowledge to reshape the future?

The cast of “Gathering Blue” includes Juliana Shugar, Francesca Lamberty, Anthony Lundy, Jordan Burton, Megan Robichaud, Abby Bopp, Stamoulis, Anthony Samol, Lexi Applegate, Kade Russo, Katie Kemray, Tori Wallace, Ethan Applegate, Robert Wallace, Nicole Davies, Adrianna Talluto, Darbo and Guinan.

The plays will be performed in the Bengal Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7 to 9, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10. Tickets are $5 and may be purchased at the door or online at bengaltheatre.com

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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