Archive for April, 2009


O’Wilderness! Ah, Neill!

20 April 2009



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. 



That certain quality

12 April 2009

Two weeks into rehearsals for Ah, Wilderness! and happy to report the pleasure of working with a competent cast and design team. And since we’re still ten days away from opening, allow me to digress into a brief rant about competence.

I saw a fence made up of boards nicely designed to form the shape of an anchor out of negative space (the design may seem kitschy but the concept is clever). All one has to do is put two boards adjacent in a mirror arrangement:


How sad, then, that whoever put up most of this fence was clueless, or worse, didn’t give a damn:


Seems to me the first step in being competent is awareness—knowing what is needed or intended; and the second is investment—caring that those needs are met. It dismays me how many people never get past those two  rudiments, much less go further and put in the effort to study and learn or work and strive towards some notable level of achievement. Worse, they either defend their mistakes (unconvincingly) or dismiss any criticism, in a kind of reverse snobbery, as unimportant and pompous.

One of my least favourite arguments defending shoddy work is, “No one will notice.” I guess integrity is just too inconvenient.

At least incompetence can occasionally provide amusement. Still, my compliments and gratitude to those with whom I am privileged to work—and indeed to those everywhere—who recognize, care, and aim for excellence.

Hugh MacLeod,