“I would’ve thought a pack of British boys would’ve put on a better show than this—you are all British boys, aren’t you?”
The officer—resplendent in his dress whites, spit and polish, braid and brass—addresses a motley castaway crew before us: stageblood painted on smudged faces, school ties as headbands, sticks for spears. All are Bay Area women who have put on a rather good show as the schoolboys-gone-native of Lord of the Flies, breathing hard from the exhaustion of a deadly chase, eyes averted with shame or disingenuousness as the uniformed figure continues, “Is it a game you’re playing? Just a game?”
Schoolboys’ games prove deadly on a desert island; William Golding’s parable—originally a novel half a century ago, part and parcel of the Doomsday literature of the ‘50s—early ‘60s—is undoubtedly the best-known piece by this Nobel laureate, in turn used by many schools in the way Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm used to be. What Woman’s Will, the all-women Shakespeare company, hopes to accomplish with these free performances at Eighth Street Studios during this late—and hot—campaign season is indicated by the panels and audience discussions that follow the shows.
“The theater is one of the last great community gathering places,” Woman’s Will founder-artisic director Erin Merritt writes in the program. “Let the performance be only the beginning of the conversation, not the end.” And guest panelists range from campaign managers to academics, peace workers to political journalists—and include students from Berkeley High and youth activists.
The story of boys on their own after a plane crash, their attempts to imitate parliamentary rule gone savage to chants of “Kill the pig! Spill his blood!” has been translated lucidly enough to the stage, thanks to Nigel Williams’ adaptation. It emphasizes a repetitive “public school” vernacular (”stupid” perhaps the principal buzz) that anticipates its own parody and mock ritualistic disintegration.
Erin Merritt’s direction keeps the through-line clear, without too much sacrifice of nuance and dynamics amid the cacophony of boys on the loose. The ensemble of young women (and an 8th grader, Sarah Smithton, a familiar face on North Bay community stages) carry out the childish games and hazing that become so deadly.
Outstanding are Jennifer Dean as Ralph, the liberal humanist of the island, prey to Jack (Jenny Debevec)—choir leader, rabble-rouser (”We can do what we like!”), leader of the pack in the hunt and spontaneous myth maker—who’s also tormentor of Piggy (Lizzie Calogero), bespectacled designated victim, shrill but usually right, attributing the common sense of his colloquial exhortations to his auntie.
These and the other six women (and Wendell H. Wilson in the brilliant uniform) have to carry this stark tale of what should be a Peter Pan utopia become one apocalypse—primitive, adolescent—on an island, in the midst of another, adult and technological, that threatens to engulf the world.
Woman’s Will Lord of the Flies plays Fri-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m., through Oct. 24. Free, with suggested donation. Eighth Street Studios, 2525 Eighth St., 420-0813, www.womanswill.org.