REVIEW: ‘Lord of the Flies’ thrives with exquisite ugliness and perfection

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The first cockney-flavored line in this onstage incarnation of William Golding’s classic “Lord of the Flies” comes compliments of blond-haired rabble-rouser, Ralph.

“It’s amazing,” he says of first seeing the desolate isle upon which he and his hormonal compadres find themselves.

That opening statement is an astute observation of not only the boys’ fictional, sandy home, but the entire production — from opening line to final, blood-soaked bow.

Commanded by director Anthony Powell, the production is a thorough tour de force. Casting, lighting, stage management – name any aspect of stagecraft and LOTF nails it with just the right touches of macabre and unsettling rawness.

lord-of-the-flies copyAdapted for the stage by Nigel Williams, the story barely needs an introduction, as it’s been the beating heart of freshman-year English curricula for over half a century. But, for those hooky-loving hooligans out there, Golding’s 1954 story centers on a group of well-to-do British schoolboys who crash land on an uncharted desert isle following a nuclear wartime evacuation. Their ensuing experience reveals humanity in its most basic form as the boys devolve into their most primal, somewhat dystopian incantations. Riddled with death, fear, courage and rage, it’s as mortifying as it is gripping.

While the pureness of the allegories the story explores makes it ripe for theater, it’s a helluva tale to successfully take from page to stage. It’s much easier for Golding to mold archetypical personalities over 200 some pages than it is to actually find a dozen youngsters who can legitimately tightrope across the range of emotions and transformations the show requires. But, somehow, someway the Denver Performing Arts crew, aided by casting supervisors Elissa Myers and Paul Foquet, has managed to assemble a jaw-droppingly impressive team of adolescents that does just that.

In a 12-person cast that boasts only a handful of birth dates that would permit the purchase of a case of Coors, skill, fervor and utter commitment to character are mind-bogglingly rampant. An intimate understanding of each paradigmatic persona – the politician, the sage, the naysayer – is integral to appropriately pull off a classic Piggy or a Jack, and each and every performer perfectly swathes themselves in their respective personage, neatly sandwiching savagery and wide-eyed naiveté.

Faction leaders Charlie Franklin as Ralph and Gregory Isaac Stone as Jack fearlessly and impressively lead the charge for the rest of their onstage companions, both serving fierce deliveries and truly selling the nonsensical animus that mutates between them. Their success is bounded by the fact that the two clearly make the hatred incredibly personal, yet refrain from it getting too buried, allowing it to remain wildly universal. Stone in particular deserves recognition for the way he systemically breaks himself down, from shiny, plastic choir boy to vice-filled, blood-thirsty brute.

Perhaps the most impressive performances, considering their age, come at the hands of the youngest dramaturges, twins Ben and Noah Radcliffe as the sheepish Sam and Eric and the pint-sized Charlie Korman as Perceval. All three wow with their delivery, zeroing in on accents and the necessary aura of helplessness. Korman has the whole puppy-dog eye thing down and the fire-headed twins gain praise with a quippy dynamic that would be tough for any other, non-monozygotic duo to pull off.

Of course, any discussion of LOTF is incomplete without a mention of the two academic martyrs, Simon (Kurt Hellerich) and Piggy (Matthew Gumley). Hellerich is extremely believable for his brief stint as the skeptical loner, offering up a chillingly good, Gollum-esque soliloquoy. But as solid as Hellerich is, Gumley shines as the pure voice of reason, continually rattling off naggingly somber lines. Perfectly cast for the role, Gumley manages to drum up just enough curmudgeonly comic relief – without pandering – yet stays true to the desperate nature of the character.

And while the show is undeniably character-driven, the superb lighting –yes, the lighting – cannot go without mention. Designer Charles Macleod hits cues with just the right shine and timing to drive home each emotional haymakers and systemically breaks down Jack’s band of wildboys into a devilish cult belonging in the seventh circle. A particularly great moment unfolds as the show’s lone adult and ensemble member, Geoffrey Kent, beams into the tail of the the second act, the white knight with an appropriately ethereal glow.

From the opening toss of the conch, the show is an all around marvel. An appropriately minimal set, terrifically exact costumes, apt lighting and of course a cast studded with soon-to-be stars all fuse together for an outstanding theater experience that could have easily been a mere refresher of middle school allegories. Instead, it reminds us just how uncomfortably sobering it is to be reminded of what humanity is when stripped down to the marrow. And, if this cast is any indication of what’s in store for metro-area theater in coming years, we’re in for quite a run.

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Lord of the Flies

7:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday

1:30 p.m. Saturday & Sunday

Through Nov. 2

The Space Theater, DCPA Complex, Speer Blvd. and Arapahoe St., Denver.

Ticket information at 800-641-1222 or denvercenter.org.