By: William Golding, adapted by Nigel Williams. At: Steppenwolf for Young Adults at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted Ave. Tickets: 312-335-1650; www.steppenwolf.org; $20. Runs through: Nov. 15
Given the recent trends in books and movies aimed at young adults, few ( if any ) classic novels could be more relevant right now than William Golding's Lord of the Flies. It's the original tale of adolescent ultra-violence, which we see in contemporary genre fictionThe Hunger Games and Divergent being two of the many examples. Steppenwolf for Young Adults has even gone so far as to adopt the marketing strategy used by promoters of the Twilight films in encouraging dialogue about its production of Golding's harrowing portrait of human nature. They are asked to consider whether they would be on "Team Ralph" or "Team Jack."
It sounds silly, but Lord of the Flies should get teens and adults talking, and that's the whole point of young adult theater. Director Halena Keys' has crafted an immersive, multi-sensory, emotionally charged production of this tale of English school boys trying to organize and survive after being stranded on an island that leads to discord and half the group descending into savagery.
Although the play suggests comparisons between men and boys, this ensemble is full of outstanding young men, as far as talent is concerned. Although for a handful of cast members the stage direction calls for little else than roughhousing, howling and stick-pounding, the featured actorsincluding Spencer Curnutt and Ty Olwin as rival leaders Ralph ( the compassionate, practical one ) and Jack ( the forceful, instinctual one ) in addition to Dan Smeriglio as Piggy, the sacrificial lambexpertly harness the intensity of their roles.
The gradual transformation of these civilized boys to boys making a game of their situation to wild animals blind to their wrongdoing lacks some clarity in terms of motivation in an utterly agitating way, but any emotions of frustration and confusion ultimately add fuel to the conversation that should be had around Golding's themes. Jack's lust for power and willingness to use fear to control the other boys has little to no grounding in his character, but yet he keeps succeeding. Some will find this absolutely maddening, while others won't like it but at least acknowledge why Jack was a successful leader. Understanding that there's nothing pleasant or optimistic about Golding's story, Keys is unafraid to elicit these emotions in the name of art as a fire starter.
With rhythmic pounding, dancing, shouting and a variety of special effects, this production might be one of the scariest, most intense incarnations of Lord of the Flies, regardless of age. The intensity builds and builds and there's no emotional conclusiononly a thought-provoking one. Even at 90 minutes straight through, it's far from easy, yet our teens are ready and capable of handling and discussing the consequences.