In William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” a group of kids stranded on a desert island begin behaving in a way more fitting of the story’s imaginary beast than well-mannered British schoolboys. The ending, as anyone who endured a high-school English class will tell you, is decidedly bleak.
Whether or not the novel’s outcome — which includes one character’s brutal death at the hands of his increasingly desperate and paranoid peers — would have been any different if it were girls on the island instead of boys is one of many questions raised by Orange Mouse Theatricals’ “Ladies of the Fly,” opening Friday at the Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania St.
If you go
What: Orange Mouse Theatricals’ “Ladies of the Fly”
When and where: The play will last from 5 to 6 p.m. at Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania St. An after-party with food, drinks and a Q&A; session will directly follow the play at Culinaria, 512 E. Ninth St.
Cost: Tickets cost $10, or $5 for kids under 12. They can be purchased online at www.orangemouse.wixsite.com/orangemouse.
The play isn’t so much a remake of “Lord of the Flies” but a re-imagining, said Mathew Klickstein, who co-wrote “Ladies of the Fly” with help from local scribe Justin Martinez and the input of approximately a dozen Douglas County girls.
“So much of ‘Lord of the Flies’ has such a masculine component to it,” he said. “I just thought it would be really intriguing to see what would happen with this play if it was done from a female perspective.”
The result is a one-hour immersive theatrical experience that invites audiences into the hearts, minds and psyches of girls growing up in contemporary America.
Klickstein, worried about the outcome of “two guys in their thirties writing a play about a bunch of young girls,” knew the project needed a dose of realism in order to work. That’s when he and other Orange Mouse crewmates — among them producer Cynthia Evans, assistant director Kalee Forsythe and director Leah Towle — decided to enlist real girls in the writing process.
So, they hosted a series of workshops starting in early 2016 that asked students, ranging in age from 8 to 16, “What’s it really like to be a girl?” The sessions not only led to more accurate language — with youthful phrases like “butthead” and “peeps” being added to the mix — and characters, but also plenty of frank and enlightening discussions of real issues facing today’s teens and tweens.
“It offers them a place to have their ideas listened to,” said Leah Towle, the show’s director. At 22, she’s not much older than her young cast, and remembers well the social pressures and general tumult of girlhood.
Throughout the development process, Klickstein has seen girls speak honestly about the kind of emotional and mental violence enacted against girls, by girls. It may not be behavior they engage in personally, but it’s still a concern.
“The girls were really able to open up and talk about issues that maybe they wouldn’t feel as comfortable talking about elsewhere,” Klickstein said. “They really told some compelling stories and were very forthright and extremely articulate about their emotionalities and what they’re going through, whether they’re 8 or 16.”
“We’re creating something with these ideas, with these concerns and questions,” he added. “That’s a socializing skill that I believe is very important.”
“Ladies of the Fly” is really a play within a play about a group of girls who, much like the project’s real cast, are working together on a remake of “Lord of the Flies.” At first, they assume character as part of the workshop process (it’s also taking place at the Cider Gallery, but in the middle of a snowstorm that traps the girls inside for eight days with no adult supervision) but eventually discard their own identities as food and supplies dwindle.
By the end, the characters have fully become their play-within-a-play characters, who in lieu of names have been given dehumanizing descriptors like “Nerdy Girl” or “Sporty Girl.” When one girl is accidentally killed near the play’s finale, another character wonders aloud what the deceased girl’s real name was. As happens so often in classrooms and other adolescent spaces (and, it could be argued, in the lives of grown-up women as well), the girls are reduced to one-note stereotypes.
Allison Wilson, a junior at Lawrence High School, plays the role of “Non-Binary.” The character, in a very contemporary nod to changing societal mores on gender, identifies as neither male nor female, which of course sets them apart from their peers.
Wilson, who is openly gay, can relate to the frustration of feeling different from others, even among friends. But she’s found a safe space on the “Ladies of the Fly” stage.
“At first, we were kind of shy around each other, and now we’re just like a big family,” said Wilson, 16. “It’s nice.”
“Our differences make us an interesting group, I guess.”