PW show to unleash 30,000 fruit flies on stage

The audience at Production Workshop’s “The Flies,” which is slated to run from Dec. 8 through Dec. 11, will feature an element perhaps more appropriate for the hit NBC show “Fear Factor.” As they gather to watch Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1943 adaptation of the Greek drama “The Oresteia,” audience members will be surrounded by 30,000 live fruit flies.

As far as director James Rutherford ’07 knows, this is the first production of “The Flies” to incorporate such an experience. “Nowhere else could this happen,” said Rutherford, who explained that PW’s student-run status and its unique relationship with the University have made the production possible.

The flies were bred specifically for the production by Sara Naylor ’07, a biochemistry and molecular biology concentrator, Rutherford said. The flies will circulate within a box tent made of netting – a small space that will also enclose the audience and the 7 feet by 7 feet stage. The effect will immerse audience members and draw them into the action onstage, Rutherford said. “The audience is actively participating in the symbolism of the play,” he said. “They are the citizens of Argos.”

“The Flies” tells the story of the return home of Orestes, his reunion with his sister Electra and his subsequent murder of his mother and her lover. It follows Orestes after he is beset by the Furies – angry figures of guilt who plague him after he commits the crimes. This ancient tale of injustice and retribution was the second of the three plays in the Oresteia trilogy and has been adapted numerous times, Rutherford said.

Sartre’s particular version was written and performed in Vichy France during the Nazi occupation. A piece with strong political overtones, “The Flies” explores issues of free will and the plight of the existential hero who chooses to define himself as a murderer, Rutherford said.

Rutherford said he proposed the play in part because of its political relevance. “I wanted to tap into the sense of apathy, the feeling that there is nothing we can do,” he said.

Rutherford added that he is aware that including a swarm of fruit flies may seem like an overbearing gesture. That, however, is in keeping with Sartre’s intentions for the play, he said. “I am playing by Sartre’s rules,” he said. “There is a sense of the guilt and remorse, the plague and the pestilence inflicted.”

According to Rutherford, the flies are not the most disturbing part of the play. “It is a really upsetting show,” he said. “The theatrical gestures are more disturbing than the crass biological move.”

In the end, not everyone will survive the performance. “Yes, the flies will die,” he said, noting that they only had a week to live anyway. But he added that “they’re getting to see live theater. How many flies can say that?”