Get Lost on Neville’s Island (4 Stars)
*Directed by Weylin Symes, written by Tim Firth. Presented by Stoneham Theatre from April 9-26, 2015.*
It seemed appropriate that my viewing of *Neville’s Island* (Stoneham Theatre) took place on a brilliant Spring day. The sun was out, the breeze was light and delicate, and not a flurry of bad weather could be seen. So, when I took my seat and saw the bold, dioramic boulders and trees filling the stage, I was enraptured. Each set piece was perfect; the stalks of white birch criss-crossed wildly and each stacked stone offered practical elements to the staging of the show as well as depth. I was lost in the visuals, but I think I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
*Neville’s Island* – for all intents and purpose – seems like a simple enough story; a small group becomes stranded on an island and they scheme to reach civilization. Plenty of movies and television shows have used this story, but as I watched, I realized I had never seen something with a similar plot adapted onto the stage. Now, don’t let that cursory summary deter you; I’m oversimplifying things. Our cast is a group of four men, all managers who are part of a larger organization. This particular team, unfortunately, ends up the creek without a paddle. Neville (Alexander Platt) is the appointed captain of the group and, thus, assumes duty of leader on his island. Gordon (Brandon Whitehead) borrows from *The Office’s* David Brent as a polarizing figure, offering most of the humor, but also encouraging moments of discomfort. Angus (Jim Loutzenhiser) plays the part of a ready-for-anything type, poised with his survival gear and placating attitude. Filling the fourth role is Roy (Brooks Reeves) who, at first, is the cheery optimist.
Each of these characters evolve incredibly naturally. Panic doesn’t set too deep for any one of them on the outset (save for Gordon, who serves somewhat as an early antagonist), and I cannot emphasize how much I appreciate that in a show. In any other medium, it would be likely to find screaming and fighting the second ‘stranded’ entered the dialogue. As an avid theatergoer and casual actor myself, I learn to brush off any flubs I happen to see on stage. There were a few missed moments and mumbled lines, but the brilliant pacing of the show really helped me lose myself in the wild alongside these four.
I had mentioned the bold effect of the stage above. Once the actors came into the scene, even more life was injected into this lonely island. Every beat became a photograph: Gordon breathing heavily into the visibly cold fog, Angus sprawled on a rock while changing his clothes, Roy slapping his body for heat with drops of actual water flying from his body, and Neville burying his nose into the earth as the creation of fire escapes him. Each action within this morsel of a world felt natural. Sometimes that’s the goal, no? To mimic reality so well, the audience blends into it.
As much praise as I give to every goose honk and water sloshing effect, the musical transitions between scenes were a bit jarring. I was taken from this real rural environment and placed into a battlefield each time the pseudo-rock came on. I felt as if I was tossed into the war scene from Max Fischer’s stage production in *Rushmore*. The lighting is stunning as we shift from scene to scene, but the music nearly destroys those moments which are luckily few and far between. It might be worth it to focus on the beautiful silhouettes of the trees only.
Now that I’ve droned about about the sights and the sounds, let me briefly touch upon the sensation of it all; the actual plot and performances. Each actor certainly filled a role, some easier to define than others. We are treated to a number near misses for rescue, skeletons in each manager’s closet, and the expected tribulations of losing (most of) one’s supplies and necessities. Amidst all of that, boy, is this show funny! We are treated to a number of slapstick/physical comedic bits (like the aforementioned “keep hitting yourself to stay warm”), in addition to quick, cutting one-liners; an exchange I found quite enjoyable involved slicing a sausage into equal bits (someone will always get stuck with the end). That’s the long and short of it. Despite the warm weather, slip on an extra pair of dry socks and catch *Neville’s Island*, running through April 26.