Chicago Theatre Review
Artistically Gut-Wrenching Theatre
Lord of the Flies
In this thrilling environmental production of William Golding’s controversial novel, the audience experiences this drama as if they were a part of the story. Seated within inches of the action, the play spills out over Lizzie Bracken’s tiny island set and into the audience. Terrifyingly enhanced by Mike Tutaj’s turbulent sound and projection design, this production is a must-see, especially for middle and high school students studying Golding’s gut-wrenching novel of survival.
Considered one of literature’s first dystopian novels, Golding’s cautionary story explores what happens when a group of very civilized British school children who, while being transported to safety during a nuclear war, try to survive without adult supervision after their airplane crashes onto a deserted island. The children attempt to establish rules in order to replicate the civilization they left behind. Ultimately though, the seduction of power drags the boys down into a savage, primitive state of existence. Rational decision-making gives way to mob mentality; what begins as a children’s game in an island paradise quickly descends to survival of the fittest within a hell of violence created when the kids‘ darker nature takes over.
This excellent dramatic adaptation by accomplished English playwright Nigel Williams makes real the terror and desperation found in Golding’s novel. His play is both unflinching in its stark presentation of the book’s main characters and events, while succinctly bringing the author’s themes to life. Halena Kays, noted artistic director of The Hypocrites Theatre Company, brings her undisputed talent for working in youth theatre to the Steppenwolf stage. Her direction is taut and visceral, giving focus and tapping into the strengths of each actor. Ms. Kay’s 12-member ensemble often feels much larger as they race over, around and through the confined space making the audience a part of the tribe. This effect makes the story personal and one that young audiences won’t likely ever forget.
In the leading roles, Spencer Curnutt easily slips into the character of Ralph, the popular, good-looking young man who tries to be an ethical leader, but whose good intentions deteriorate under the mob’s insurrection. Throughout, Curnutt is the heart and soul of this production and he deservedly earns the audience’s empathy and affection. Ty Olwin frighteningly plays Jack, Ralph’s power-hungry adversary who challenges his leadership. Jack begins as a power-hungry bully but, as his domination snowballs out of control, he turns into the personification of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Dan Smeriglio makes an impressive debut as Piggy, the ever-ridiculed plump, nearsighted, sensible voice of reason. Quoting his aunt, Piggy offers the only adult voice among his companions’ childish behavior. Smeriglio, who wisely focuses on Piggy’s intellectual strength without playing the hurt inflicted by his callous schoolmates, represents the loss of innocence for whom Ralph cries near the end.
Other strong performances are found in Ryan Heindl and Adam Shalzi, convincingly codependent as twins Sam and Eric, who often finish each other’s sentences and become victims of Jack’s violent takeover; Lane Flores as the kindly, epileptic, Christ-like Simon, organizer of the tribe’s makeshift shelters and protector of the “littluns;” Rudy Galvan as Roger, Jack’s amoral right-hand man and fellow bully; and Cale Manning, who represents all the youngest survivors of the group, as a sweet, frightened little Percival.
Ms. Kays‘ production effectively brings Golding’s emotionally devastating novel to life. Melding all her elements, The director takes Williams’ artistically written stage adaptation and superbly infuses it with the talents of a tightly-knit, carefully-selected cast and design team. She has created an outstanding theatrical experience that no audience, young or old, will likely soon forget.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented by Steppenwolf Theatre for Young Adults in the Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted Street, Chicago, Oct. 16-Nov. 15.
Tickets are available by calling 312-335-1650 or by going to www.steppenwolf.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.