Friday, May 10, 2013

REVIEW: Union High School's All Female Cast of "Lord of the Flies" Works

Often required school reading, often banned, the book "Lord of the Flies" follows a group of boys who find themselves stranded on a deserted island where they must try to create a society of their own. As they endeavor to govern themselves they must deal with the fear and paranoia that overcome them. 

While the controversial work might be seen as a look at how society in the hands of unprincipled youth might fall apart, the problems they face are not reserved for the young or isolated (though minus the murders, it is not unlike what I remember from Junior High School); it's really a look at world issues faced by adults. The microcosmic story is certainly a look at Contemporary World Problems--as relevant today as it was when written (1954).

Featured from both casts: (L to R) Dominic Faraca, 
Christian Seavey, Riley Atwood, Julia Jones and Jessica Yonko
It is an increasingly violent and dark tale, full of foul language and other deviant behaviors. I was surprised that a high school would present it. While the telling is of value, I didn't think I would want my young teens seeing it. However, I speak of the book and movie, in this stage adaption the raw language was absent. So, I've changed my mind.

The 1990 movie (with plenty of raw language and gore) is often slow with far too many establishing shots. The 90 minute film could have been cut to 70 minutes and still been complete. My question, coming into this, is how certain elements of the book (and film) will be staged. What works there (especially in book form) doesn't appear easily adaptable to the stage.

The Play

The Union High School Players (Evergreen School District, Camas address) have chosen to take it on. Not only is this move gutsy, but they have also chosen to cast the show with two disparate casts--one all male, one all female, a move which might raise even more eyebrows, but certainly a cause for curiosity. What particular dynamics might a female cast bring to the stage? I intended to find out.

The play itself, adapted by Nigel Williams from the book by William Golding, is not a masterpiece. It doesn't seem to translate particularly well, though the staging was nicely done.

This is the review of the female cast. Tomorrow I will post my review of the male cast. (Below you will find the schedule of the two casts.)

I think the girls handled it nicely and it isn't easy material. Primal emotion, psychological change and an extreme amount of physicality are demanded. My only dislike about the female cast was that there was a lot of screeching. [It's a good thing that the casts alternate nights so that the ladies can rest their voices.] Additionally, (when they weren't screaming at one another) a few cast members were too soft spoken to be heard (no mics were used). Other than that, quite an enjoyable performance.

Julia Jones and Jessica Yonko in "Lord of the Flies"
(female cast). Photos provided.

The Players

Performances overall were good in spite of the difficult material. While in the hands of more experienced actors it could have been better, it was surprisingly good. Particularly grand were Julie Jones (as Jacky), Amber Kinsey (as Beth) and especially Elyza Lester (as Robyn) who essentially nailed her part in every way. She's either very good or had an awful lot of coffee.

Brandi Kuskie (as Simone) had the most difficult and emotional role to play. While she was one of the softer spoken ones, her performance was, none-the-less, impressive. All roles required a great deal of primal energy, physicality, and savagery. Not an easy task and all the girls are to be applauded. Who knew the gals could be such barbarians?

The stage direction was well executed by director Katie Stevenson who is new this year to the school. [She comes from a six-year stint teaching in Oregon where she was an award-winning recipient of the Educational Theatre Association as Outstanding Theater Teacher.]

The Playmaking

Again, as I expected the adaption for stage was not especially transferable. I feel it lost something of its impact and visually it is a challenge. None-the-less it was tackled with aplomb.

The setting (by the theater students) had many elements that I liked, but the primary set piece (a three level rise) did not match the overall look as well as it could have. The paper vines, the netting, the fire, wood, and rocks all worked well and had a realistic, though stylized, look to them, but the camo-painted stairs were seemingly out of place.

The lighting design, by Greg Bennett, was well done, but nothing earth shattering. The color pallet was what one would expect. The cyc was lit especially well, with a beautiful pallet. Several well chosen gobos and the fire effect (with added motion wheel) were nice touches. Though there was thunder, there was no lightning (and I felt there should have been). There was a down spot used toward the end that would have benefited from color, texture and motion and there could have been some down-lighting texture that would have added immensely to the jungle feel.

The sound design was nicely assembled and executed with several quality sound effects. The primary fire and smoke effect was also quite nice (though a second fire had no effect at all).

The show made me want to, metaphorically, "kill the beast, spill the blood" of the inner demon we all have, made so evident by the book/play message. For this reason (a look at the ugly side of human behavior) I recommend the show.

[And ladies, keep in mind that all that mud is good for your skin. I don't know about the stage blood.]

Further showings are 7 p.m., May 9-11, 17 and 18 at Union High School Performing Arts Center, 6201 MW Friberg St., Camas, Wash. Tickets $10, $7 for students and seniors. Call 360-604-6250 for tickets and information. Cast rotation is as follows:

May 10-Male
May 11- Female 
May 16- Male 
May 17- Female 
May 18- Male

WARNING: Recommended for those over thirteen, with parental discussion for those under 17. There is a lot of violence and some blood. The raw language of the book and movie have been omitted in this adaption for young players.

By Gregory E. Zschomler
Photos provided.

The following bonus review is by Dennis Sparks:

This classic, 1950’s novel by William Golding has been adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams. It is performed by high school students under the direction of Katie Stevenson. It is unique, in that it has an all-female cast and an all-male cast, performing on alternate nights.

The Devil Made Us Do It!

The novel was written post-WWII and during the Cold War/Red Scare era of the 50’s. Needless to say, the message it delivers is ironic, and not a pleasant one. Two rather good films have been made from it, about 30 years apart. What would a group do if stranded on an island in the middle of an ocean for an extended period of time? The very good TV series, Lost, offered one possible scenario and, I suppose, you’d have to consider the very silly, Gillian’s Island, too. And, also, the family values inherent in Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson, is another consideration.

But the question suggests more than place, but a journey. A journey back in time, psychologically, where a “civilized” group is stripped of all known conveniences and conventions of the “normal” world and is thrust into a world without them, not unlike Apocalypse Now, where one flows back into the “heart of darkness.” And when the “travelers” are teenagers, the question also becomes, how much of whom we are, is inbred vs. learned? Will the strongest survive? If so, what happens to the meek? And what will their world look like?

This scary, horror story is well-presented on the stage and, for the most part, and is convincingly conveyed by a talented group of young ladies. A group of students has crashed on a deserted island in the ocean. Almost immediately, the true character of the individuals, appear.

Rachel (Jessica Yonko) and Piggy (Emily Hyde) represent the civilized set, feeling that everybody should have a say (whoever holds the conch) and that a leader should be elected. But Jackie (Julia Jones) and Robyn (Elyza Lester) and their ilk, feel they should enjoy themselves and dance and play. They become the Hunters of the group and approach killing as a game.

Into this uneasy mix are included Simone (Brandi Kuskie) who, perhaps, discovers the “secret” of the island but is not mentally strong enough to resist, and is eventually succumbed by it. And the twins, Sam (Megan Looney) and Emma (Emily Looney), good at heart, but easily seduced.

The Hunters succeed at bagging a boar and discover they enjoy the heat of the chase and the killing/blood of the victim. They impale the boar’s head on a stake and declare it their god (the Lord of the Flies of the title, also another name for Satan). Rachel and her troop build the huts and keep the bonfire burning, to attract the search planes.

There is also talk of another mysterious “beast” of the jungle, hanging from the trees, that should be feared (a type of boogeyman). Simone senses the power of these forces but her mind slips into insanity. Piggy also does not fit into this new order because of her reliance on law and rules (the holder of the conch) and so, also comes to an unpleasant end.

It goes without saying that these two factions will battle for control. And, not unlike some nations of the “civilized” world, the choice for the defeated is to either join the victors, or die. In the end, only Rachel is left standing against the “lord’s” minions. But one final twist is left at the end, as both their worlds come crashing down around their ears. (I won’t be a spoiler and reveal it, in case you haven’t seen the movies or read the book).

The set, lighting, sound, special effects and make-up are really quite good. And the directing by Stevenson is remarkable, as she manages to lead her troupe of young people to hell and back. This would be difficult material for any theatre doing it, but to have teenagers grasp the intricate and complex subtleties of this story, one must give credit to their talent and, especially, to the director. I hope she continues on with other such plays of this ilk, as they will challenge their creativity and intelligence. Bravo!

Jones (as Jackie) has a tremendous amount of energy and displays the savagery of the character with real conviction. Also Lester (as Robyn) is equally convincing and, perhaps, scarier, as her cohort, who will stop at nothing to satisfy her primitive impulses. She is very good. Yonko (as Rachel) as the rational side of this society, is very articulate and authentic, as she tries to hold onto the last vestiges of her ordered life.

And Hyde (as Piggy) gives us a sad look at the world of the misfits in a society and what is oft-times the tragic results, as they are cast aside. Although she isn’t physically right for the part (she should be a stout girl) she more than makes up for it in the acting department, giving us the almost lone voice of law and order in a primitive existence. And Kuskie (Simone) has the right look and seems to have a keen sense of this difficult character but isn’t able to be heard much of the time. The rest of the cast should be noted, too, as they add to the success of the show—Riley Atwood, Samantha Voeller, Amber Kinsey, Madisen Hess and Janessa Cimfl.

In fact, the only real problem with the production, is that sometimes the cast is speaking so rapidly and screeching, that one is unable to make out the words. My advice, slow down, articulate and enunciate and, possibly pull some of the action down onto the apron of the stage. This is too good of story and cast to have the words lost in the rafters.

We are, perhaps, our own worst enemies, and our fault lies “not in the stars but in ourselves.” Or, as Ms. Stevenson expresses it, “…the Beast can be anywhere. Even in you.” I would echo that. I recommend this show but, be prepared, it is strong, but important material. 

If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

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