As most public school kids in America will remember from their ninth grade English class, “The Lord of the Flies” by William Goldingis is the quintessential dystopian novel of our childhood. While I was never fully convinced by the 1940’s classic that humans in general, let alone 12 year old boys could collapse into madness so easily, the University department of Theatre and Drama performance may have convinced me otherwise.
Music, Theatre & Dance fifth year senior James Harbaugh, the director of “The Lord of the Flies”, brings the story to life in an innovative and breathtaking way. Harbaugh depicts the young boys’ quick descent into chaos as all forms of civilization break down in a way that sheds light on a side of humanity you never wanted to see but can’t look away from.
Harbaugh is a genius when it comes to the stage. His vision for this show was shocking and terrifying and all around horrible in the best possible way. He made smart choices that utilized the space, props and actors in unexpected ways, while staying true to the story.
Instead of an overdone jungle theme, Harbaugh put his actors in worker jumpsuits and used classroom and construction props as the minimal set. Though it wasn’t canon with the original story, it made perfect sense for this production and didn’t detract from the realism of the show. Their fire was a rope of orange extension cords, their shelter a metal construction lift. He even made use of the light box in the studio; the final scene depicted Jack stabbing his spear through the switch box, killing the lights on his hunt for Ralph. This use of technology and modern appliances gives the play an almost “Black Mirror” feeling, bringing a dated book into the modern age with new significance on how technology interacts with the very core of humanity.
His use of sound effects was minimal and effective: Throughout most of the show, a hollow wind sound engulfed the stage, sucking the air out of the actors and audience alike. I don’t think I took a full breath the entire show, and suddenly Piggy’s asthma predicament didn’t seem so comical.
The most genius part was Harbaugh’s casting. Instead of the traditional all male cast, he had a mix of male and female actors, with females portraying most of the leads. Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Claire DeJean played Ralph, the textbook honorable, but occasionally naive leader; Music, Theatre & Dance senior Jillian Lee Garner played Jack, the schoolroom bully turned savage hunter; and Music, Theatre & Dance junior Shea Fairbanks Galaudet played Piggy, the beloved superego of the group. These three women portrayed their characters with fascinating depth and a childlike vigor that didn’t seem manufactured. Watching every character onstage have an emotional breakdown for two hours was exhausting but utterly convincing.
Allowing women to portray these roles solved what is most lacking in the original book. This story takes the ‘boys being boys’ argument to the extreme, but by having the majority of the characters played by women, the characters became more universally human. Not only can these characters as women still behave just as savagely and cruelly as the original characters, but it also proves that women are fully capable of playing these types of roles. Rarely are women cast in roles that allow them to explore such emotions, because it’s even more rare that such roles are written for women. By placing women in roles that are not only usually portrayed by men but are also so viscerally human, Harbaugh broke down the expectations that women are fundamentally different from men and created a story anyone, regardless of gender, can see themselves in. Whether they want to or not.
The book is disturbing enough; reading about 12 year old boys succumbing to their wild side, ripping each other to shreds with no ounce of morality is gruesome at best and emotionally scarring at worst. But seeing that story play out onstage was something else entirely.
Of course, we all look at those kids and think ‘I would never do something like that, they’re monsters.’ But skimming through “The Lord of the Flies” the night before a high school English test in the comfort of your bed is one thing. Watching real people, people you know, people you go to school with and are even friends with, unlock that side of themselves for a performance makes you realize just how easy it could be to succumb to those temptations, if put in the right circumstances.
The final performance of “The Lord of the Flies” will take place on Friday, Feb. 28 @ 8pm in the Newman Studio.