Civility wears thin quickly on ‘Neville’s Island’

Alexander Platt*, Brandon Whitehead*, and Jim Loutzenhiser* in NEVILLE'S ISLAND.  Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

Alexander Platt*, Brandon Whitehead*, and Jim Loutzenhiser* in NEVILLE’S ISLAND. Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

STONEHAM — It‘s “Lord of the Flies” meets “The Office” with a splash of Monty Python and “Gilligan’s Island” thrown in for good measure. And a veddy British feel and touch.
That’s the Stoneham Theatre production of Tim Firth‘s “Neville’s Island,” now on stage in Stoneham through April 26.
Pennine Spring Water Limited is conducting a corporate outing/Outward Bound type team building exercise in the Lake District of England in November when a quartet of middle managers — Neville, Gordon, Roy, and Angus — capsize their boat and find themselves on a deserted island.
It’s a comedy of errors with their struggles to regain their footing as their situation goes hilariously awry, eventually culminating in some hair-raising — and possibly deadly — situations.
Civilization is close by — so close it can be heard and almost felt — yet things become so uncivil amongst the quartet that lives are in danger.
And while yes, it is a comedy, it is not a children’s show. Firth will take his characters to some very dark, dirty areas.
Neville (Alexander Platt), a stiff-upper-lip, stolid sort, has been elected captain of the expedition — Group C, to be exact — by the other three: Angus (Jim Loutzenhiser), Gordon (Brandon Whitehead) and Roy (Brooks Reeves).
After they lose their way in the fog and hit some rocks, forcing them to make their way to the shore of a nearby island, they haven’t yet finished putting on dry clothes when Gordon (Brandon Whitehead) bitterly lashes out at his mates for their parts in the predicament.

Brooks Reeves and Alexander Platt* in NEVILLE'S ISLAND.  Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

Brooks Reeves and Alexander Platt* in NEVILLE’S ISLAND. Photo credit: Mark S. Howard

Gordon is a font of withering sarcasm and anger. Yes, he is funny, the but the humor will eventually comes at the cost of his own humanity
They four are calm and cool — how bad could things be? After all, they’re just a mile from their hotel. So you have to swallow a lot of what-ifs to make it remotely plausible that they’re out of touch and in trouble.
After all, they had food. Oops! That was in Gordon’s knapsack, which rests at the bottom of the lake.
Angus has managed to keep his rapidly-dying mobile phone (the piece is set 20 years ago) aloft all the way to shore, allowing him to make a phone call to his wife alerting her to what has happened. But he is forced to leave a message, and has no idea if his wife will get it.
A short swim to safety? No, deadly pike made that impossible. Things deteriorate — not only is there no food, but old jealousies and rivalries rear their heads, complicating matters. There’s a hilarious battle over a breakfast sausage that predictably ends badly. And then there’s the piece of pizza that floats to shore.
Reeves — whose splendid theater season got even better recently when he received the IRNE Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Zeitgeist Stage‘s “Bent” — has the toughest road to hoe as Roy, a born-again Christian who suffered a breakdown that forced him off the job for 13 months, and who is still awash in grief at the death of his wife. He decides at the worst possible moment to go rogue on the island.
Add a few things that go bump in the night, and the stage is set for the survival of the fittest — or is it the craziest?

Weylin Symes, the artistic director of the Stoneham Theatre, directs and parlays some adroit casting with the ability to keep his actors perched right on the precipice of losing touch with reality without ever quite going over. It is tricky business in a piece like “Neville’s Island,” which is pretty much all over the lot in the second act, changing in mood and tone at the drop of a hat, and feeling somewhat padded to get to its 2:15 running time.
Set designer Chris Ostrom has crafted a pleasant island setting with a climbable tree, large rocks, and water where required , and his lighting effectively conveys the changing conditions.
Credit also goes to the actors, because much of the piece is a physical ordeal, given the sodden conditions, fights, struggles, and the tree climbing that Roy does.
Firth reminds us that civilized behavior is but a thin veneer, and it doesn’t take getting us out of our comfort zone much before we’re ready to go after each other.
The Stoneham Theatre production of “Neville’s Island.” Written by Tim Firth. Direcrted by Weylin Symes. Scenic and lighting design by Chris Ostrom. Sound design by Brendan Doyle. Costume design by Deidre Gerrard. At the Stoneham Theatre though April 26.