To local theater audiences, playwright Bill Leavengood is best known for such edifying shows as Webb's City: The Musical that provide personal stories behind the area's history and legends.
Lourdes of the Flies is not such a show.
Leavengood's latest offering is a broad and silly look at high school cliques. It borrows its title and the skeleton of its plot from William Golding's harsh novel Lord of the Flies, but its humor, style and sensibility owe more to Gilligan's Island and the plays of Charles Busch.
The idea is that high school girls on a cruise end up stranded on an uninhabited tropical island. They immediately divide into two groups: one more concerned with making cool new clothes out of the local flora; the other more with surviving peaceably.
The latter group is headed by Lourdes, the school's outcast weirdo. Turns out she's a weirdo only because she had been taking an assortment of trendy psychotropic medications. On the island, away from her pills, she's turns into a smart, resourceful and normal young woman.
So there's a bit of substance in all this buffoonery. Leavengood is a longtime teacher at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, so his observations about modern adolescence and his characters ring true even though they're caricatures.
For the most part, the enormous appeal of Lourdes comes from its silliness and its coy bawdiness. A couple of boys and a lecherous female teacher, played by a young man named Michael Vestergaard in drag, have also survived the shipwreck and join the original castaways, disrupting established cliques and relationships.
The cast, made up mostly of high school and college students directed by Leavengood, is impressive. With the exception of Lourdes (Patricia Yeazell, who transforms herself physically and emotionally), the actors don't have to do much in the way of characterization. But their comic timing is sharp, their physical comedy is crisp and virtually all of the nine cast members have appealing stage presences. Tamara Austin, as the one African-American among the island's inhabitants, is one standout.
Leavengood's script is clever and amusing from start to finish, with tons of chuckles and a few solid laughs. The way he integrates a few pointed sociological observations into such abject silliness is impressive.
The production is intentionally amateurish. The sets and props by Tandy Ecenia, one of the area's top pros, are designed to look as though they're from a cheesy high school drama club production and offer some of the show's best sight gags.
It's only when the amateur qualities are unintended that the show goes overboard. (The space itself — downstairs from the main theater in the Palladium — is totally inadequate and cheapens the entire production.)
But Lourdes of the Flies is still fun and funny, certainly slight but fact paced and thoroughly entertaining.