Barrington Stage Company: 'Lord of the Flies': Sound, fury unbridled

Thursday October 18, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- It doesn't take long for the schoolboy airplane crash survivors in Nigel Williams' stage adaptation of "Lord of the Flies" to yield to the beasts within, especially in director Giovanna Sardelli's furious, loud production at Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage.

William Golding's popular 1954 novel is a chilling, compelling allegory about the worst, and best, in mankind and the compelling forces of bad, good and moral equivalence that are unleashed when an airplane carrying a load of British schoolboys -- sent aloft to escape feared nuclear devastation of their native England -- crashes on a remote uninhabited island. They are quickly divided into those who, led by young choirmaster Jack Merridew (chillingly and sneeringly played by John Evans Reese as a youth to the manor born), yield to the primal instincts of hunters driven more by blood-sport lust than life-sustaining necessity; those who strive to hold on to some sense of civility and order, led by the morally ambivalent Ralph (played earnestly by Richard Dent); and the easily manipulated rest -- with the exception of Simon (effectively played by Chris Dwan), who marches to the sound of his own drummer -- who simply follow the path of least resistance.

But what deepens between the covers of Golding's book locks into facile archetype on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage. The horror of the situation comes upon us before there is time for any grounding, any development or dimension. Characters who should be rounded are reduced to flat attitude-adopting figures. The notable exception is Reese, who, as the entitled Jack Merridew, logically charts this young man's transformation into the brutal self-appointed leader of the hunting clan; a young man who, as he discards his school uniform also is throwing away all pretense of civility. His inner beast is unleashed and it will take no prisoners.

Sardelli's staging often feels counterintuitive to the story's dramatic values and logic. So, too, her use of stylized, choreographed stage movement and Anthony Mattana's music, which, in effect, exist more for their own sake than as enhancements of Golding's story. Substance gives way to style and an even-handed rhythm that narrows the field of vision.

Within the narrow, archetypal limits that have been set, the performances are perfectly suited to this theatrical equivalent of Cliff Notes -- sketchy ones at that.


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