Theater Review: “Lord of the Flies”
Photo by Vinnie Gonzalez
A savagery, energized by wild school-aged boys beating spears into SPARC’s hollow stage and unrythmically yelling and screaming so vociferously I wanted to give each actor a time-out, permeates through “Lord of the Flies,” Henley Street Theatre’s sharp as a spear, fiendish staging directed by Josh Chenard, which opened last Friday evening as the company’s submission into the Acts of Faith Festival.
To begin with, the synopsis of Nigel Williams’ stage adaptation of author William Golding’s 1954 novel centers on a band of English school boys stranded on a deserted island during some anonymous war, needing to create a new society. Wearing a school uniform accessorized with a blue and red striped tie and argyle knee-high socks, fashioned by Nicole Slaven’s unwrinkled scholastic costume design, Ralph (a tiny but mighty Eric Evans) attempts to form their community based on the principles of individual propriety and communal discipline.
At first, it seems that his comrades will uphold the parliamentarian political system of the British Empire, from which they came. However, a second group of stranded lads appear out of the woods and their leader Jack (Drew Sease), exploiting the fact that they have no adult supervision, subverts the inchoate democracy, advocating for an autocratic system. The rival camps compromise but ultimately Jack’s group secedes, escaping back into the woods and precipitating a civil war between the groups in Act I.
Chenard emphasizes the civil strife in Act II between these two factions, one rational, the other visceral, contrasting the rivals into a game of shirts versus skins. (Ralph’s team keeps wearing their soiled undershirts while Jack’s clan scavenges around bare-chested and muddied.) Commendably, his ability to envision the scorched landscape of stranded British youth warring between the ideals of civilization versus the convenience of primitivism as their guiding political and moral framework is unafraid and bracing throughout the performance.
Joe Doran’s lighting is tropical and psychodynamic, including blue and purple skylines and a yellow and orange encrusted wildfire, and Jason Winebarger furnishes the primitivist inspired set with green bamboo sticks, gray rocks spread across the beach and a black, scaffolding mountain juxtaposed against the shoreline. Artistic director James Ricks’ sound design includes lagoon tones like waves and thunderstorms, and poignantly plays “Jerusalem” and “Ave Maria” to accentuate the religious undertones in Act I.
Moreover, the four principal roles — Ralph, Jack, Piggy (a wonderfully contrarian Matthew Barger) and Simon (an underused but captivatingly paranoid Sean Wyland) – are acted with vivid intensity. Particularly, Sease commands the stage with his devilish physical presence, crisscrossing the beach and mountains like a predator with a sharpened spear and a venomous bite, somewhat menacing like a nefarious Peter Pan. Also, of particular distinction is how dialect coach Renina Hoblitz has taught this young, all-male ensemble of 11 to articulate with authentic upper-crust British accents.
Unfortunately, Chenard’s 2-hour edition of the script excludes a persuasive proportion of the deteriorating psychological subtext and temporal nuances within the narrative. The production moves like patchwork, and the character Simon is sometimes not well understood. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, there is a cacophony of boyish yelling and spear pounding that was frustrating; therefore, toning it down a bit will allay the clamor.
Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to watch Golding’s novel dramatized on stage, warning us that an unfettered society can cajole the ancestral barbarian lurking underneath our civilized demeanor.
“Lord of the Flies” runs through February 25th, 2012 at SPARC. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit http://henleystreettheatre.org/
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
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