'Lord of the Flies': A 'morality thriller' opens rehearsals

by John Moore | Aug 27, 2014
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Photos from the first day of "Lord of the Flies" rehearsal by John Moore.

To see our full gallery of photos from the first day of rehearsal, click here


Anthony Powell remembers watching Peter Brook's 1963 black-and-white film adaptation of Lord of the Flies. He was a high-schooler, alone in the house, watching a group of well-behaved schoolboys who survive a plane crash slowly turn into a bloodthirsty tribe on a deserted island they are convinced is ruled by a terrifying beast.

And it scared the living daylights out of him.

Now, Powell is directing the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company's new stage adaptation of Lord of the Flies, opening Sept. 26 in the Space Theatre. And rest assured, Powell said, "One of our goals is to scare our audiences as much as that movie scared me."

Producing Artistic Director Kent Thompson said he chose Lord of the Flies for the 2014-15 season because it is one of the great 20th-century novels. He calls it a "morality thriller," this story of young boys discovering how hard it is to adhere to what they have been taught. "It teaches an awful lot about how we behave with each other socially and culturally," Thompson said, "and how we get off track."

He calls Lord of the Flies both fascinating and terrifying. Not only for what happens in the story, but looking back at the story now, as a father himself. "And as a father, it means completely different things to me now," he said. "It makes me think, 'Oh my gosh, what did I teach my own son? What would happen if he and his friends were suddenly on an island and they had to reconstitute the world?' "    

Powell sees Lord of the Flies as a spectacularly written cautionary tale about how hard it is for human beings to remain human. And how better to tell that story than to show basically decent boys put in an environment, Powell said, "where they actually degenerate into adults"?

"There is a wonderful moment in the book where Ralph says, 'I wish the grown-ups could send us a message, so we would know what to do.' And a couple of pages later, the dead parachutist falls into the tree. There's your message from the world at large."
 
Tuesday was the first day of rehearsal for Powell's cast and crew. In his introductory remarks, Powell talked about the story's well-studied themes, such as its political through-line of fear. "It shows how nameless, amorphous fear is used by individuals and by governments to manipulate us," Powell said. "I think all you have to do is look at weapons of mass destruction that don't exist as 'The Beast,' and, boom, you are right in the middle of The Lord of the Flies.

But Powell also told his team that their job is to put on a "cracking good adventure story."

"I say it's The Swiss Family Robinson on meth," Powell said. "And that's really the way I want to approach this production. The big ideas in the play are there. In a sense, they take care of themselves. But our challenge is to grab the audience by the throat in the first moments of the story, and just give them the most exciting, visceral experience of this play that we possibly can, using all of the all the stage magic that we have at our disposal."

Powell is looking to stage the show within n the creative context of an inescapable fever dream.

"The play begins kind of easily, and then begins to hurtle toward the ending," he said. "Time is telescoped. It just goes. We're on the beach. Then four lines later, suddenly we are halfway up the hill. Then we are on Castle Rock. Then we are in the jungle. Then we are here. Then we are there. So it has this  incredible, fluid movement to it."

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Here are more excerpts from Director Anthony Powell's greeting to the cast and crew:



"William Golding, the author, resisted giving away the rights to do a stage adaptation for years. The book was published in 1954. His publishers were on him from that time on, because there was money to be made. Apparently Golding enjoyed the 1963 Peter Brook film, but in 1990, someone else got the film rights. They made a movie where it's American military cadets who crash-land on the island -- and Golding hated it. Because of that, he gave Nigel Williams permission to do the stage adaptation. He basically told him, 'Please save the ideas of my book.' The first performance of the play was at a British boys' school. The playwright's son attended there. He played Simon. Golding saw it, and he loved it. And he died shortly after that.

"It's a remarkable adaptation. There is no narration in it. It tells the entire story through dramatic action. And somehow, the playwright has managed to get inside the heads of all of these characters. But maybe best of all is this gift of humor in this play. Because in the book, humor doesn't jump off the page at you. Williams has given us characters whose foibles make us laugh -- and thank God for that, because seeing this story, live and in color, the audience needs it. We will be mining that in this production as much as we can.

"The book's reputation is as being this dystopian view of society. It's all about man's inherent evil, and original sin, and our irredeemability and, well ... sure. That's in there. That's what people focus on when they talk about this book. But re-reading it, I don't think that's entirely true. And it's even less true about the play. I'm not suggesting that Lord of the Flies is rainbows and unicorns. It certainly is ironic. It certainly takes a very tough and a very realistic view of human nature.

"Golding was a naval officer during World War II. He served in D-Day. He saw a lot of friends killed in the fighting, and he later admitted that it affected him. He said, "Man is drawn to evil like bees to honey," which I kind of love.

"But I see the possibility of redemption as being part of the story, too. If this were not the case, then why are three of the four lead characters -- Piggy, Ralph and Simon -- inherently good? They're flawed, but they are all trying to keep their humanity alive. Critics will say Jack is evil incarnate. No. He is a kid on an island where things happen. It's awful and it's sad but ... evil incarnate? No, I don't think so. Here's another Golding quote:

'The human spirit is wider and more complex than the whole physical evolutionary system. The changes in politics, religion, art and literature will come because they must come; because the human spirit is limitless and inexhaustible. Just around the corner are the St. Augustines, the Shakespeares, the Mozarts. Perhaps they are growing up now.'

"That's the same writer who said, 'Man is drawn to evil like bees to honey.' How do you square those two? I think the play goes a long way toward doing just that. For me, it comes down to that amazing ending, when Ralph -- almost beheaded by Jack and the guys, is saved:

'For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the strange glamour that had once invested the beaches. But the island was scorched up like dead wood - Simon was dead - and Jack had ... The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.'

"For me, there is a recognition at the end that our actions have consequences. And I believe that a recognition of our own character flaws and our own cruelties is our own angels talking to us. You cannot become another person without recognizing that the problem in society begins from within. So I see the possibility that these young men on the island are going to go off and lead a different life. And that's part of the story I want to tell."


Cast list:


Ralph: Charlie Franklin
Jack: Gregory Isaac Stone
Piggy: Matthew Gumley
Roger: Jack DiFalco
Sam: Ben Radcliffe
Eric: Noah Radcliffe
Simon: Kurt Hellerich
Henry: Skyler Gallun
Maurice: Benjamin Griffin
Bill: Allen Dorsey
Perceval: Charlie Korman
Ensemble: Geoffrey Kent


More photos:


To see our full gallery of photos from the first day of rehearsal, click here

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2 comments

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  1. Dixie Darling | Sep 12, 2014
    My 120 sophomores were assigned Lord of the Flies as their summer reading.  We are all coming to see the play, and we can't wait.  I am confident that we will not be disappointed.  We never have been before with Denver Performing Arts productions.
  2. kristin | Aug 30, 2014
    Can't wait to see the show, loved the book.

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    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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