If Survivor thinks playing the race card is the ticket to high ratings, maybe they should up the ante and make next season’s cast entirely female. According to Fallen, the new play inspired by William Golding’s classic novel Lord of the Flies, this would guarantee episode after episode of deceitfulness, cruelty and mental warfare as never witnessed before.
At the Gene Frankel Theatre, Fallen opens slightly reminiscent of another television show about stranded survivalists, with a captain’s message informing the audience that due to turbulence, the seat belt sign will remain lit for the duration of the flight. Through excellent sound design by Ben Warner, the crashing of a plane is simulated in chilling aural detail. Flash tableaux of nine teenage schoolgirls show them praying, whimpering and huddled together on the sandy beach (designed by D. Craig M. Napoliello) of an uninhabited island.
Immediately, alliances are formed. Although motherly Becky (Meghan Love) is elected leader, the charismatic and manipulative Hilary (played by the equally mesmerizing Dana Berger) sets to work convincing the other girls to follow her instead. Straight out of Mean Girls, Hilary is adept at preying on the weak and using insecurities — of which teenage girls possess more than enough — to turn each girl against the other.
Though each girl initially assumes a stereotypical role in the group (the shy one, the ditzy one, etc.), smaller group scenes begin to reveal that superficial perceptions can’t always be trusted. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Hilary is working her nasty magic with the girls’ minds. Her tactics force the girls to sacrifice each other, turning paranoia into a contagious disease as the exhausting days wear on.
Also notable is Emberli Edwards as ditzy Julie S., a hanger-on of Hilary’s whose malleable personality reveals its inherent malevolence when prompted to provoke the increasingly unstable Becky in Act II. The deftness with which she goads Becky into a raging explosion shows that Julie S. has been doing more than idolizing Hilary; she’s been taking notes, too.
As the play progresses, one might wonder if Hilary’s reluctance to leave the island is connected to the feelings of all-consuming power it provides her. Her privileged but lonely home life is mentioned often, and controlling her own corner of the world seems to fulfill a malicious desire built on her own insecurity.
Since Fallen was conceived by Laura Gale (the realistic Layla), director Joseph Schultz and the ensemble through a plot outline and extensive character descriptions followed by improv to generate text, the painfully true and emotionally vicious moments the girls encounter in their search for food, water, and a way off the island avoid sounding overly easy or clichéd.
Some of the most powerful scenes are those without dialogue, since most of what the girls say can’t be trusted anyway. When a rainstorm finally blankets the island and destroys the rampant rescue fire set by Hilary, the girls emerge from their shelter and dance in the rain. Primitive and stripped down to their underwear, the dance morphs from a freeing expression into a grunting, wild circle where one girl after another is trapped in the middle and pummeled by her schoolmates before being thrown roughly aside. The consequences of this night elicit a well-deserving gasp from the audience.
While the characters and their personal trajectories are easily recognizable from Lord of the Flies, the absence of certain plot devices (the “beast”, the sow’s head, the soldier’s corpse) actually work in the play’s favor. Left with literally nothing else to concentrate on but each other, the girls of Fallen must wallow in their own ferociousness until they ultimately, either mentally or physically, destroy each other. Take that, Survivor.