LORD OF THE FLIESby William Golding, Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams
Director – Kelsey Leigh Ervi
Set Design – Bradley Gray
Costume Design – Sylvia Fuhrken
Assistant Costume Design – Ryan Schaap
Lighting Design – Dan Schoedel
Sound Design – Kellen Voss
Properties Design – Tish Mussey
Fight Choreographer – Jeff Colangelo
Original Music – Andrew Manson
Dialect Coach – Sara Lovett
Dramaturg – Kyle Eric Bradford
Stage Manager – Caron Gitelman Grant
Assistant Stage Manager – Hillary Collazo Abbott
Ralph – Henry Greenberg
Piggy – Matthew Minor
Jack – Anthony Fortino
Roger/Fight Captain – Mitchell Stephens
Maurice – Seth Womack
Simon – Kyle Montgomery
Sam – Samuel Cress
Eric – Brandon Shreve
Perceval – Tanner Garmon
Reviewed Performance: 1/25/2016
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
“There’s just me, and I’m coming to get you.” Jack. Lord of the Flies
WaterTower Theatre’s riveting production of Lord of the Flies will have you searching for your old high school/college lecture notes for talking points and marveling all over again at Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding’s use of symbols to weave an allegory on the nature of man.
Written in 1954, Lord of the Flies was Golding’s first novel and not a big success at the time of its publication in 1955, selling fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States before going out of print. However, the novel went on to become a best-seller, and has been made into movies, twice in English and once in Filipino. In 2005, TIME magazine chose it as one of the 100 best English-language novels written between 1923 and 2005 and it has taken its place as a staple on academic reading lists.
As surely most of us know, the plot involves a British plane crashing on an isolated island in the midst of a wartime evacuation with the only survivors a group of preadolescent boys. (In the WaterTower production, these are mostly young men.) The boys soon divide into two groups and the consequences are disastrous. In the introduction to his stage version of the novel, playwright Nigel Williams says, “What Golding’s book has is a real knowledge of its subject – schoolboys – and a real conviction that they can represent more than the things they seem. …an important debate about power, democracy and the good or evil that is within men’s hearts…”
The flexible space at WaterTower Theatre has been arranged for this production with a large playing area in one corner, seating the audience on the long and short sides of the space in a 90 degree angle. This arrangement makes for a fairly intimate experience with no one being terribly far from the action on stage.
The spectacular setting by Bradley Gray gives us the island stretching both wide and high with many levels, a wrecked plane and a floor covered in sand and wreckage debris. It is a realistic, yet theatrical representation of an environment ripe with possibilities. Upon entering, the space is hidden from the audience by parachutes patched with articles of clothing. We hear singing of a hymn, and one by one the parachutes are dropped revealing the group of boys who then disappear to return later. The textures of the set, the hanging vines, the believable cliffs, rocks and caves are all artfully displayed thanks to Mr. Gray’s expertise. It is a marvelous setting upon which Lord of the Flies may unfold.
Ralph and Piggy are the first two characters we meet, and in the skilled hands of Henry Greenberg and Matthew Minor, the show is off to a confident, involving start as the two take in their island environment and deliver needed exposition for the audience. Greenberg’s Ralph convinces us from his opening moments that he is physically and mentally equipped to be a leader by the way he stands and moves, his confident delivery and easy manner with which he fills the space. Because of his performance, we believe it when he is then elected leader by the other boys. Mr. Greenberg’s performance grows as the evening progresses, revealing to us his vulnerable as well as his strong side and his final moment with Piggy’s glasses is fine. He gives us a Ralph we identify with and creates a clear arc of character development for us to follow.
Matthew Minor as Piggy gives what is perhaps the evening’s most believable and honest performance, every hesitant step, gestures held close to the body and physical separation from the rest of the cast adding one more layer of characterization so that we care deeply about what happens to him and follow his performance with undivided attention. His relationships to the other characters are particularized and specific, so that we know who each character is to him, what the nature of his feelings are, and what makes each a unique relationship. Mr. Minor manages to command our attention without unduly drawing focus by the sheer power of his richly drawn performance.
Anthony Fortino is Jack, the choir leader, and soon to be antagonist. Mr. Fortino is a very physical actor, confident in his body and uses his skills to move about the stage with specificity, showing us aspects of Jack with every gesture and changing position. It’s a big performance that at first may seem a little disconnected from the others but then soon becomes a clear indication of how Jack evolves and what he needs. The dances and fights, the pig hunt and chases are totally believable because of the complete immersion Mr. Fortino has allowed himself in finding his character, grounding it in his body and his movement. His gradual ascent to power and the fear he elicits are all believable from the kinetic expression of every decision and emotion.
Simon is played by Kyle Montgomery and he gets an opportunity to take the stage in his big solo moment at the top of Act Two. While the monologue is effective and holds our attention, I did sometimes have difficulty in understanding what Mr. Montgomery was saying. His desperate attempt to tell the others boys the true nature of the beast, ending in his murder, is played with true desperation and clear understanding of his objective which makes the outcome even more tragic.
Samuel Cress and Brandon Shreve are Sam and Eric, the twins, whose constant togetherness tells us so much of what we need to know about them. Standing close together, holding hands, sharing reactions and private moments, Mr. Cress and Mr. Shreve create a very credible set of siblings.
Tanner Garmon is the youngest member of the cast and so it is appropriate that he play Perceval, a “littlun.” Like all the cast members, Mr. Garmon is focused and always tuned in to the action of the scene, adding a layer of innocence by his relative youth.
Roger and Maurice, who become Jack’s henchmen, are played by Mitchell Stephens and Seth Womack. Here too we see credible progressions from choir boy to hunter as each actor finds moments to reveal by action and inflection the growing attraction of the darker side of unsupervised behavior. Like Mr. Fortino, these two actors use their bodies to reflect the changing emotional climate of their lives. Movements becomes more animal-like and less rigid, closer to the ground and less up-right, showing, rather than telling us the changes they are experiencing.
Lighting by Dan Schoedel and sound by Kellen Voss contribute greatly to the effectiveness of the production. Mr. Schoedel’s design creates an atmosphere both real and allegorical, with his use of colors, intensity, isolation and specific changes to enhance mood and action. Mr. Voss provides a constant background atmosphere of outdoor sounds that underscore the environment and specific sounds, such as the pig squeals and plane crash at the beginning that add layers to the story being told. Original music is credited to Andrew Manson and is a major element of the production. The dances and the hunts are accompanied by primitive, brutal drum beats that are infectious in their evocation of the decay of civilized behavior.
Costumes by Sylvia Fuhrken, assisted by Ryan Schaap, are believable and appropriate, and even in the use of uniforms at the beginning, somehow manage to help differentiate between the characters. As the performance progresses and the action becomes more primitive, the clothing, or lack thereof, reflects the changes happening within the boys. Makeup for Jack and his followers with slashes of black and red, a cape made from the pig skin and remnants of clothing to remind us of who these children once were, make for effective visuals.
Tish Mussey is credited as properties designer and I assume is responsible not only for the life-like pig, but also for the spears, conch and other elements used by the actors that contribute to the realistic journey taken by the characters. Dialect coach Sara Lovett has done good work with the actors, generally getting a uniform British accent that is not intrusive.
The play is immensely physical and Director Kelsey Leigh Ervi has used the many-leveled playing space in a masterful way. The boys are seldom still, moving and regrouping, making visual signals as to allegiances and relationships without ever sacrificing focus on the important action. She has made a group of actors who are clearly knowledgeable of their intentions and what the arc of each beat should communicate. All seem fully immersed in each moment, giving it its full weight without losing the forward momentum. The entire evening has shape and clear purpose and knows where it is going. Read her director’s notes in the program.
In addition, Ms. Ervi, and fight choreographer Jeff Colangelo have concocted extraordinary fight and dance moments that electrify in their intensity and lift the play above the purely representational into something, at times, almost mystical. The stomping beat drives the story while it also visually underscores the interior changes that are taking place in the young men. The many symbols inherent in the story and the commentary on man’s descent into innocence lost are all there to be seen without being unduly stressed.
That the actors are older than their counterparts in the novel is at first a little disconcerting, but is soon put aside as we get caught up in the action. The violence becomes perhaps more believable because of the ages of the participants, but maybe loses some of the horror of being perpetrated by younger boys. Dramaturg Kyle Eric Bradford addresses this in his article in the program.
In all, the show pulls together a brilliant set, tight production values, strong performances, startling moments of physical savagery along with tender, fleeting encounters and the heartbreak of terrible loss, all held together by the strong, sure hand of Ms. Ervi. The production is one to be seen and discussed long after the last drumbeats have faded.
WaterTower Theatre at the Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 750041
Final Performance February 14th, 2016
Tickets: $15.00 to $40.00; Tuesday Matinee Tickets: $15.00
7:30pm Wednesdays and Thursdays
8:00pm Fridays and Saturdays (February 6th and 13th at 2:00pm and 8:00pm)
10:00am Tuesdays (February 2nd and 9th)
Tickets and information at www.watertowertheatre.org or 972-450-6232 or in person at the Box Office. Box Office hours: Tuesday through Saturday, Noon to 6pm during performance weeks and Tuesday through Friday Noon to 6pm during non-performance weeks.