Full disclosure: I never read Lord of the Flies. It’s quite possible I was supposed to, but I don’t recall ever doing so. Perhaps it was not in the curriculum, or more likely, my own unintentional display or reckless rebellion. What I do know somehow, without experiencing this book first hand, is the basic story line and the cautionary tale type themes it explores. I’m an optimistic realist by nature; always hoping for the best in any situation, while simultaneously and cynically understanding and expecting our gross limitations as a species. It’s because of this personal philosophy perhaps that the stage adaptation of Lord of the Flies, being performed by A Theatre Near U, and now playing at the Pear Theater, doesn’t exactly grab or resonate with me. It seems overly predictable, resolved from the beginning, and shows us the dark we already know about ourselves without shedding real redeemable light on anything. It appears I have the talking conch, so I’m compelled to elaborate and perhaps in the process shed a bit of light myself.
Let’s be clear here. The kids on this stage – the young men acting these roles – are not short on talent by any means. They are capable and committed. They genuinely stand out individually and work as an ensemble. They are asked to perform some pretty bizarre and emotional extremes and they all do so passionately, seriously, and in many cases very well. Any one of these young gentlemen could go on to hone their full potential and have a fruitful acting career. The talent is not in question, more so I think this script adaptation, and perhaps the fundamental challenges of doing a stage production of this story, may well be.
I really don’t know if this script knew what it wanted to be. It wanted to be linear in places, but it refused to hint for the most part at a clear passage of time. At times it was jarring and abstract. I wasn’t sure I got enough of a sense of realism to look at it as real, but felt when it went to an almost performance art level of absurdity, it was too easy to just disengage and dismiss as random. I kept thinking I didn’t see or hear enough innocents initially in order to allow myself to be moved by the tragic, inevitable, savage decline. It seemed too short a distance traveled from deserted to deranged, to narrow an arc to build the essentially deep, layered characters and then the necessary attachments to them.
Additionally, the pacing wasn’t appealing or really very helpful in the storytelling at all and may well have been the single most lethal killer on the stage. It seemed to be on fast forward at the beginning and then dragged on unnecessarily. After climaxing too early it got too comfortable and repetitious in its hazy, dizzying, hallucination for me to emote much on behalf of the situation.
There is a consistent flair for the dramatic in this production that’s exhibited not only in the acting and staging choices, but the lighting, sound and choreography as well. Again, it’s done whole-heartedly and the boys do not hesitate to play the drama, but so much of it seemed misplaced or drawn out. I was missing any significant semblance of who these boys were before they were thrust into what they ultimately become or reveal themselves to be. I wasn’t given the opportunity to know them soon enough to have the traits serve as the strings necessary to pull me through the mire of abstract and over-exaggerated passages.
The set was basic and functional, providing clever layers and levels, but so much of the action seems so precarious (actors on the edge of a significantly raised platform, holding sharp objects as a blackout transitioned them to the next scene for example) that I was distracted more by the possibility of actual danger than that of any sinister plot developments.
There were small choices made that I liked and several I disagreed with, but I could also see why they were made and that counts for a lot. There was cohesiveness and consistency in the staging and tech that certainly saved this script in places, but perhaps some different directorial choices could have picked up the slack for what the script lacked even more.
Overall, while Lord of the Flies didn’t fly for me, I want to applaud the choice, the opportunity, and the effort of this production more than the finished product. I do so with a 3 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a beast of a play, and certainly a noble attempt and an important opportunity for this tribe of wild boys. Lord of the Flies plays through August 5th at the Pear Theater in Mountain View.