There is so much that feels new in WaterTower Theatre's Lord of the Flies, but still with an undercurrent of déjà vu.
The story, about a group of British schoolboys stranded on an island after a plane crash, is familiar to anyone who read William Golding's novel in high school. But this production, with its uber-naturalistic set and thundering sound design, brings Golding's boys to life in frightening reality.
Director Kelsey Leigh Ervi is using a new adaptation by Nigel Williams and has put her own touches on the show as well. The ending — which won't be spoiled here — is especially designed to get the audience talking.
But what's also creating chatter is Kellen Voss' rumbling sound design and Bradley Gray's set, a playground of dirt, sand, simulated fire, and foliage that feels both expansive and claustrophobic. The tail end of the downed plane juts out menacingly, a constant reminder that there is no escape from this isolated island. The boys, who were escaping the London bombings yet found themselves in the crossfire, continually remember that there may not be anyone left from their old world to come to their rescue.
And that suits some of them just fine. Jack, a condescending bully who excels at manipulating others, relishes the chance to put himself in charge. He's also eager to release his animalistic urges, opting to obsessively hunt a wild boar instead of focusing on shelter or rescue.
It's perhaps the most genuine performance we've seen from Anthony Fortino in a long while, but he's still not as frightening as Mitchell Stephens, playing second-in-command Roger. A loose cannon with sadistic urges and seemingly no moral compass, he represents the island's true danger.
On the other end of the spectrum, Henry Greenberg grounds the production as Ralph, the sometimes-leader who flip-flops between standing up for what's right, and reacting as a normal, insecure teenage boy would against peer pressure. Greenberg plays up these flaws, making him more relatable than saintly.
As the two we're meant to identify with the most, Matthew Minor and Kyle Montgomery provide memorable performances. Minor is Piggy, the picked-on outcast who sees the savagery emerging among the group yet continually tries to push against it. Montgomery is the dreamy Simon, whose intense monologue at the beginning of the second act is the most haunting moment in the show.
The rest of the cast — Seth Womack, Samuel Cross, Brandon Shreve, and Tanner Garmon — fill out Golding's world quite well, switching between leaders and sides with fickle fear. Though it might not feel as revolutionary to those raised on Lost and Survivor, Lord of the Flies still retains an important sense of immediacy.
WaterTower Theatre's production of Lord of the Flies plays through February 14 at Addison Theatre Centre.