Somehow I managed to reach the age of 43 without having read "Lord of the Flies," the William Golding classic, and staple of so many "required reading lists" of high schools.
The book was also made into a feature film, twice, 1963 and also in 1990, with both big screen versions having also escaped me somewhere along the way.
But now, I can say I've seen the story brought to life on stage, since "Lord of the Flies" is continuing its run as part of Steppenwolf for Young Adults' 2013 Season using Nigel Williams' adaptation and playing until Nov. 15 in Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre.
Running 90 minutes without an intermission, the show is dark and disturbing, as directed by Halena Kays.
It features a cast of young actors from around Chicagoland including William Burke, Lane Flores, Ryan Heindl, Brendan Meyer, Lance Newton, Kevin Quinn and Adam Shalzi 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.
At Sunday's afternoon performance, there were quite a few young audience members, likely fifth grade through high school, and many of this younger set in that mix were bundled in their seats in a fetal position, as they faced the blood, inner rage and implied violence that graphically unfolds before the eyes of the audience. Oh yes, and there's lots of spitting.
With some research, it's clear the story and intrigue from the book's pages are already powerful and penetrative without overly garish theatrics. And this assembled cast ranks high, without any shortage of talent, intensely bringing each of the boys to life with clear identities.
Actor Spencer Curnutt plays the fair-haired Ralph. And as his stage rival for the story, it is Ty Olwin as Jack, the leader of the boys' choir.
These two men are powerful forces with an impressive range of stage abilities. They have the gifted talent to say much without saying a word, all conveyed by their masterful expressions, from deep and thoughtful looks to every curl of their lines of their mouths.
As the brooding and complicated Roger, Rudy Galvan fills this identity quite nicely. I wasn't quite as sold on the acting turns of Dan Smeriglio in the guise of bespectacled Piggy nor Cale Manning as trembling Perceval. Or maybe they just pale in comparison to the fire and passion of the two male leads playing the competing leaders of this island?
Director Kays has a few too many moments of running with spears, while screaming and bellowing, for her interpretation of how certain scenes should unfold. I understand the confusion and chaos she wants to convey. But with many of these exchanges also happening in very dark and hazy lighting, as designed by J.R. Lederle, the sense of connection needed for the audience to care about characters and their plight never happened for me.
The play continues at Steppenwolf, 1650 N. Halsted St. in Chicago this month with tickets $20, as well as $15 student tickets. FYI: (312) 335-1650 and steppenwolf.org.