Director Halena Kays describes her new stage production at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre as "an audience island."
"I was excited to have a smaller upstairs intimate space to stage a show about feeling stranded and surrounded by isolation," said Kays, who is enjoying bringing to life the Steppenwolf for Young Adults' 2013 season production of Nigel Williams' adaptation of "Lord of the Flies," the William Golding classic.
Now playing until Nov. 15 in Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre, the show features a cast of young actors from around Chicagoland including William Burke, Spencer Curnutt, Lane Flores, Rudy Galvan, Ryan Heindl, Cale Manning, Brendan Meyer, Lance Newton, Ty Olwin, Kevin Quinn, Adam Shalzi and Dan Smeriglio as the band of boys trapped on an island following a plane crash during wartime evacuation.
As natural leadership emerges, the preadolescence pack of boys find themselves forming their own societal structure of dominance and submission existence as power struggles fester.
"This season we investigate a classic play in which young people navigate tricky moral landscapes in games both virtual and real," said Artistic and Educational Director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults Hallie Gordon.
"Through 'Lord of the Flies' this fall, we examine what it means to grow up and take responsibility for our actions and their sometimes devastating consequences."
Actor Spencer Curnutt, who originally hails from Tipton, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis, plays the fair-haired Ralph, one of the first boys who revives on the beach and calls to summon the other survivors using a conch shell, which inevitably becomes a symbol of power and leadership.
Curnutt, a graduate of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, said he was called to do readings for various roles for the production before he was cast.
"I read for a few of the characters, like Roger and Jack, before the casting came down to me being offered the role of Ralph," said Cornutt, who admits he can identify with his stage persona.
"Every social circle has a certain amount of politics and taking sides. Even growing up, I've learned from my dad, who has held office in our town as president of the city council."
His stage rival for the story is red-headed Jack, the leader of the boys' choir and played in this production by Ty Olwin, who admits when he moved to Chicago after graduating last year from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, as a Drama major, he felt like he was "arriving on a new island."
"In the theater community, you're always meeting new people and forming new bonds and work relationships," Olwin said.
"As for my own personality as a leader, I can take charge of situations at times. But also, there can be times when I'm in a new situation with new people that leaves me wanting to stay in the background and just watch what's unfolding."
Both Cornutt and Olwin agree they are impressed by not only the scenic design for this production and the lighting that sets the dramatic tone and mood, but also the props and sound design.
"The first time I saw the stuffed pig's head, I couldn't stop staring at it," Cornutt said.
"And it was also staring back at me."