Ah, Wilderness! at Chemainus Theatre Festival has a look that is at least unusual and perhaps unique. Most productions of this play have a detailed and realistic set, and one that often faithfully recreates the summer home in Connecticut where Eugene O’Neill spent much of his boyhood. (His script descriptions for the homes in Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day’s Journey Into Night are almost identical.)
Director Jeremy Tow and his creative team have instead taken as inspiration O’Neill’s description of the play as “a dream walking.” The space is open and airy and awash in sea-blues and white, as are the set pieces which practically float in the delicate frame of memory. Indeed, the play is being presented as the particular memory of Richard, my character’s son about whom the plot is mainly concerned. This concept and design emphasize the exquisite nostalgia of the script.
With our opening four days away, I find myself unable to be completely objective about our production, but I know there is good work being done and I believe we are doing the play justice. I always have a crisis of confidence about my own work sometime between start of rehearsals and opening night. If I am lucky, it is a thing that passes with a few performances and a positive response from the public.
Edits have been necessary (damn the impatience and short attention span of today’s audiences) and the considerable extent of the cuts is heartbreaking. But we assuredly care about the underlying spirit of the play, and hope to bring a rare mixture of laughter, emotion and warm hearts to those who attend.