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Lord of the Flies

After the annihilations and exterminations of World War II, a great deal of public soul searching and discussion ensued regarding human nature and society, particularly concerning our animal instincts and whether these innate urges render us incapable of developing an enlightened civilization. The propositions ranged anywhere from the nihilism, absurdism, and dystopia of European theatre and literature to such anthropological titles as On Aggression and The Territorial Imperative.

Matthew Gumley as Piggy
Matthew Gumley as Piggy
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Lord of the Flies, adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams from the young adult novel (1954) by William Golding, is an exploration of these themes. In the current Denver Center Theatre Company production directed by Anthony Powell, we find disparate sets of English schoolboys marooned on a desert island. Impressively staged in the round Space Theatre, among rocks and sand and ledges in the audience—with 11 young professional actors, plus a distinguished Geoffrey Kent (Naval Officer) to tidy things up at the end—the play challenges us to consider how far we've come in understanding our species.

The production is filled with excellent performances, particularly those of Ralph (Charlie Franklin), Piggy (Matthew Gumley), and Jack (Gregory Isaac Stone), who generate the most influence on the others. The movement (Laurence Curry) of the ensemble and fight choreography (Kent) is also outstanding.

Charlie Franklin as Ralph
Charlie Franklin as Ralph
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
While the play delineates the struggle between cooperative behavior and mob psychology, the most telling scene is the last, where the Naval Officer comments on what he observes and then turns to gaze at his ship. One can take this visual metaphor in a variety of ways, but it begs commentary on the similarity of the belligerencies of boys and men.

Given the increased social awareness of bullying in recent years, it's easy to see why artistic director Kent Thompson chose this one-time best seller. Yet, like so many "scientific" and "socio-scientific" theories and analyses today, Golding ignores many relevent forces, revealing limitations of the author's worldview and his own self doubts (he was an alcoholic). For example, one of Golding's assumptions is that hostilities between people are a result of instrinsic beastial forces.

Gregory Isaac Stone as Jack
Gregory Isaac Stone as Jack
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
Granted, Golding did not have access to the data and studies which have prolifereated in recent years, such as those that show the control that bank holding companies have over transnational corporations and governments. One can now persuasively argue that wars, poverty, and disease are largely by design for profit, power, propaganda, and population reduction. When their lives are threatened by the scarcity of basic resources, human beings often revert to aggression, yet this is more an indication of the amorality of certain segments of society, rather than a universal truth regarding human nature.

Allen Dorsey as Bill, Matthew Gumley as Piggy, and Jack DiFalco as Roger
Allen Dorsey as Bill,
Matthew Gumley as Piggy,
and Jack DiFalco as Roger
Photo: Jennifer M. Koskinen
In fact, the idea of "human nature" as a fixed set of behaviors is simply not in sync with current quantum theory nor with evolution. But, this is fiction, after all, and as a cautionary tale for young adults, it clearly has a lot to say.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's presentation of Lord of the Flies runs through November 2nd. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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