Lord of the Flies, based on the novel by William Golding, by Nigel Williams. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli.
"It’s not us ... it’s them."
Just picture the Lost Boys without Peter Pan’s leadership and Wendy Darling’s loving guidance. Picture them alone on the island without Tinker Bell to excite their imaginations and with no Tiger Lily to save from the Pirates. In fact, picture them without pirates, Indians, girls, fairies or anything other than their own teenage selfishness. William Golding did just that in 1954 when he wrote and published the now classic novel of barbarism, tribal rivalry and neo-cannibalism. He exploited the imagery of street gangs in this Halloween tragedy that takes the lives of two kids (on-stage) and countless adults (off-stage). He had clearly seen the 1953 Walt Disney film version of the James M. Barrie classic, for his imagined stranded, or lost, boys closely resemble the Disney versions: twins who speak in unison, a fat, slightly older kid, a boy with glasses who cannot see at all without them, a tiny youngster who is ultimately stirred to a frenzy: they all appear in both editions.
On the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage at Barrington Stage Company’s downtown Pittsfield theater, a production of the 1992 theatrical version by Nigel Williams is being given a rousing good, almost horrific, production directed by Giovanna Sardelli with the help of fight choreographer and a movement coach, a dialect coach a composer/sound designer and an A-One team of production people.
The boys are all British and the time period is toward the end of World War II. On a plane taking the boys out of England something disastrous happens and the airplane crashes. The survivors - all boys - are left to their own devices and are compelled to find leadership. Ralph, a natural-born leader with a sense of logic and design, is elected but this upsets young Jack Merridew, from a better school, who thinks he deserves the role of leader. Eventually the boys fall into two different camps, each supporting their own choice. It’s a bit like the TV show Survivor only without the bug-eating visuals. These two deliberate tribes do what they must to survive and to maintain their own rigid life-choices. It’s not easy for any of them; even though they seem to be content with their choices they leave themselves very few options and so develop an in-bred sense of superiority.
Jack Merridew is portrayed by John Evans Reese, a young actor who can take a fey stance and capitalize on it until his character’s true nature emerges, cruel, domineering and stiff. He brings a dancer’s grace into his work and the studied mannerisms of Jack turn into something almost filmic, as though Jack has memorized the attitudes of screen villains and brought them to vivid life. Reese manages to make heinous activity quite attractive and equally repulsive at the same time. I would term this brilliance and commend the actor for his ability and agility.
Chris Dwan’s Simon is a boy who knows what’s right and hates it, then likes it, then loses himself to an illusory cause, discovering too late and at an inopportune moment what is real and what is not. Dwan plays all this with great sincerity and a quiet charm. His performance feels real; there is little that is actory about it. You are with him all the way.
Christopher Sears morphs from boy with a bent toward mimicry and mockery into a monster who cannot control his baser instincts. He is as threatening in this role as Reese is in his and their confrontation scene in the third act is devastating.
Joey LaBrasca played young Percival with a talent that transcends his youth. He almost moved me to tears and I wasn’t alone - there were sniffles all around me. John Aramis Buckley and Dane Shiner worked well together and Eric Meyers held up his end of the performance with a professional elan. Will Bradley was just fine as Roger, a little over-the-top when it was called for and just note-perfect the rest of the time.
Matthew Minor and Richard Dent as the two protagonists each turned in performances that were staggering. The honesty that these two men bring to their roles should serve as a lesson to any aspiring actors who see this production. Minor as Piggy plays the life-size non-hero whose actions and rational thinking serve to create the kind of hero we see rarely nowadays. Put upon and abused by his contemporaries, the constant brunt of others’ jokes, Piggy asserts himself whenever he is called upon to do so and Minor makes that seem natural and pure. Piggy’s last act of impractical behavior, though not characteristic of him, seems to be the perfect choice for Minor to play as he staggers around the multi-platform set, blind to his own future and only in touch with his momentary status.
Dent, on the other hand, is so radically rational in the face of all that befalls him and his few friends that he almost seems to have dropped from another play. He would be Peter Pan if he could fly. He would be the strong, eternally youthful boy in different circumstances.
Dent explores every facet and every asset that Ralph retains in this isolationist situation. His mood changes with each encounter with Reese’s Jack. His face alters and on it is written every thought that Ralph experiences. His expressive eyes, hands and body cannot do anything wrong, it seems, for Ralph as he moves from one level of life to another. Ralph will not be dragged into the cannibal techniques of his cohorts and yet these are hard for him resist as he fights destructive fun both inside and outside. Dent is so compelling that his final moment on stage is perhaps the most unforgettable of the evening.
Director Sardelli has done a remarkable job with her cast in exploring the internal aspects of their characters. She has established a comfort zone for each and in each relationship that zone is visible and supportive. There is almost a true spy camera sense in our witnessing what goes on here. Her fight choreographer, Felix Ivanov, and her movement coach, Shakina Nayfack have added immensely to the stage pictures as the physical demands the script imparts to the actors feel absolutely right each moment of the way.
David M. Barber’s busy set provides wildly difficult and erratically frightening playing levels. Without a single bush, sand dune or tree we are on a deserted hilly island. Amy Clark’s costumes are occasionally silly but absolutely right for the time, place and characters and presumably she has guided the boys in their wilder makeup which looked phenomenal. Scott Pinkney has provided the perfect mood lighting throughout the play and Anthony Mattana sound design and original music could not have been more ideally created and used.
This is a hard two hours to watch and a compelling experience, not to be missed. If you have ever felt a single savage impulse, ever known a group experience that seemed to go awry, ever wished to be alone on a desert island, than this is the play you must see. You can always go home afterward and stick Walt Disney’s "Peter Pan" into the CD player and lighten your mood a little - bit it won’t last long. You’ll still be thinking about Piggy and Ralph, Percival and the rest.
If you go:
What: The Lord of the Flies
Where: Barrington Stage Co., 30 Union St., Pittsfield
When: Through Oct. 21
Tickets: 413-236-8888, barringtonstageco.org