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Lord of the Flies at Carnegie Mellon Drama

While Manson’s disdain for Golding is amazing, his indifference to the audience is mystifying

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Perhaps the worst part of the mess that is the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama’s production of Lord of the Flies (Nigel Williams’ stage adaptation of William Golding’s classic novel) is that director Caden Manson could probably justify his every single choice.

The inexplicable set, the fragmented projections, reductive camera work, a bombastic ensemble acting style most charitably described as Wagnerian and — most importantly — utter disregard for the author’s intent … yes, I’m sure he could explain it all. And my only response would be: “That’s nice, Caden. But d’you really wanna go through life staging shows that’ll make people despair for their lives? Think of your karma!”

I can sit through barn theater with bad actors, community theater with no budget, and professional shows without a clue. What drive me nuts is a director who believes the work of a Nobel-winning author needs someone to fix it. And while Manson’s disdain for Golding is amazing, his indifference to the audience is mystifying. At no point does Manson invite us into the action or allow our imaginations to inform our theatrical experience. He’s made up his mind what Golding meant (or should have meant) and parades that in front of us instead.

He’s jettisoned subtext absolutely: Every emotional beat is played on top and, most irritatingly, he has camera operators onstage following the actors around and projecting their images on movable screens.

It’s bad enough that this completely negates Golding’s story of boys isolated on a desert island descending into barbarism. Worse still is that any time a character has a line of any import, Manson has him speak directly into the camera, and then throws it up on the screens. Heaven forefend we’re allowed to tease out Golding’s allegory on our own. The camera operators disappeared for the second act, but then so did much of the audience. (My unofficial tally was 50.)

My heart really breaks for these deeply committed and extremely hard-working acting students. It seems to me that the drama department ought to be serving them, not forcing them to serve the trendy “vision” of someone who, when you come down to it, doesn’t really seem to like theater all that much.


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