Patty Duke and her neighbor, Broadway producer Laura Little, had been looking for projects to work on together. But it didn’t prove to be an easy task for the two Coeur d’Alene women.
“We kept coming up with one-woman plays that just didn’t hit me right,” Duke said. “Then one day she said, ‘Are you aware of a book named ‘The Giver’? And I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t.”
So she downloaded a copy of Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newberry Award-winning novel about an 11-year-old boy, Jonas, who must choose to conform to his dystopian society’s expectations for him or flee.
Duke – whose legal name is Anna Pearce – stayed up all night reading. “I was hooked.”
And now Little and Duke are teaming up with director Patrick Treadway to present a reading of a stage adaptation of Lowry’s novel, with proceeds to benefit the Bing.
Treadway, a favorite on local stages (currently appearing in “Mary Poppins” at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre), was Duke’s first and only choice to direct “The Giver.”
“I adore Patrick as a person, but his skills are off the charts,” she said. “He was the only person I could think of. Because we’re doing this as a reading, he’s so creative I knew he could help him to bring it to life.”
Treadway also serves as the narrator while the young protagonist, Jonas, is played by Tate Erwin. Duke walked away from their early rehearsals together impressed.
“I was just blown over by how receptive he was to suggestion and direction, and he’s just basically got ‘it.’ ”
While the book is required reading in many middle schools, its messages go beyond the teenage years, Duke said.
“It really encompasses all our ages and wishes and disappointments,” she said. “I learn more every time I read it, even more when I hear the children reading it. Staged readings, audiences may think ‘Oh, I don’t want to see people sitting on a stool reading from a book.’ But the material transports you. I really does. I don’t think anyone will think they just sat there and listened to someone droning on for two hours.”
Duke did a staged reading with Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre last year, “Over the River and Through the Woods” with Ellen Travolta, Jack Bannon and Dennis Franz, an experience she said was among the best in her career. She admits she likes the staged reading format.
“I love the format. Are you kidding? You don’t have to learn the words. What could be better than that?” she said with a laugh. “I was doing a play in Hawaii, and I learned them and I said them all in a row, but when I came home and got back to work on ‘The Giver’ and there was this sense of ‘Oh, I just have to play it. I don’t have to search for the exact word.”
The play she did in Hawaii, “Heaven Forbid,” was adapted from a BBC series called “Waiting for God.” It was an irreverent look at aging. Duke said she had a blast.
“It was wonderful. I got to be crabby. I got to say things Patty Duke should NEVER say.”
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