David Dodd 2:53 a.m., May 21
In Lord of the Flies (1954), William Golding isolates a group of young British students on a deserted island. In time, most revert to savagery. Simon Stephens' Punk Rock (2009) serves as an update.
The students at Stockport aren't isolated, though seven like to meet in the old library upstairs, a sanctuary from the ubiquitous iPod- and iPadders on campus. The seven are as bright as they come. While they wait for their "mocks" - mock interviews to prepare for their A-level exams - they evaluate their teachers, often in superior tones, and talk of choosing Cambridge over Oxford.
That's when they converse. Just below the surface, they seethe or cower. Along with the epic social pressures of being a teen, their environment's a pressure-cooker. Some, like Bennett, let off steam by "winding up" a peer - bullying them, slandering unmercifully, anything to lower their status in the presence of others.
Golding called Lord of the Flies a "lab experiment" in human nature. The book takes such a dim view, many readers slammed it (and how can you call something a "lab experiment" if you create it as you go?). To protect himself against a similar charge, Stephens has a character say 99% of all humans are basically good. Then he shows otherwise.
Punk Rock doesn't probe its subject very far, and the epilogue covers all the bases without touching any. The play and Ion Theatre's production work best on the surface, where emotions, reputations, and trust are fickle, and where bullying infects like a virus, spreading its poison with lasting and, in this case, lethal consequences.
Claudio Raygoza's book-lined set with stained-glass windows does double-duty: it could in fact be the old library, the props are so accurate; but it's a scaled-down version, giving the room a creepy claustrophobia. Courtney Fox Smith's red-trimmed school uniforms are a plus, and Karin Filijan's expert lighting works her usual wonders.
Melanie Chen's sound design includes a subtle bass hum, felt more than heard, that gives scenes an edge, though the music used to tweak the drama's too obvious a signal that significance is at hand.
Ion's cast got the accents pretty much right, but tended to stress them over the words. Some gave the sense that they were acting at being intelligent, as an attitude, rather than simply being so, as a matter of fact and, in Stockport England, a curse.
Benjamin Cole makes Bennett a confincing needler: part-insecure teen, part shark prod. Lizzie Morse handles Lilly's emotional changes well (practically a new character per scene). And J. Tyler Jones heads the class/cast as William, as smart as he is innocent, and hurt past the point of no return.
Ion Theatre, 3704 Sixth Avenue, Hillcrest; playing through March 9.