‘Ah, Wilderness!’: Eugene O’Neill’s comedic counterpart to ‘Long Day’s Journey’ stages at HARTWritten by Caitlin Bowling
Set in the Haywood Arts Regional Theater, the cast of “Ah, Wilderness!” spent a rainy evening preparing for its impending opening night.
The actors practiced their lines and movements, making all the blunders of a good rehearsal. One of the crew sat stage left following line-by-line and interrupted to correct the actors or answer their call for “Line.”
Director Wanda Taylor sat several rows from the front with her rescue dog, Nora, at her feet, typing comments on her laptop and occasionally laughing at an amusing line or action.
“Every play that I have directed I just love directing,” said Taylor, who has been a part of HART since 1988 as both an actress and director. “It is always fun for me to watch the characters develop.”
A handful of others watched from various seats in the house.
“Ah, Wilderness!” is the only comedy written by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, who is more commonly known for his dramas including “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
The play is set in New England on July 4, 1906, and focuses on life in the Miller family — particularly Richard. During the weekend, Richard, an almost 17-year-old boy, has his first experiences with love, alcohol and prostitution.
“There is an undercurrent of poignancy, sweetness to it,” Taylor said.
It is a “wish play,” she said. “This is his family the way he wished it was.”
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is about the family he actually had.
O’Neill was born in 1888 to two actors and spent much of his early life traveling with his parents. His brother suffered from alcoholism and drank himself to death. O’Neill was a depressed alcoholic as well. He married several times and had three children. His two sons followed a similar path of depression and addiction. Both eventually committed suicide. His daughter married the famous silent film actor and producer Charlie Chaplin when she was 18.
O’Neill died in 1953.
Steven Lloyd, executive director of the theater, chooses the season and assigns a director to each play based on who expresses an interest. “Ah, Wilderness!” was slated as the theater’s final performance of the season.
The cast began rehearsing in late September after holding open auditions, Taylor said.
“It’s a nice mixture of experienced actors and inexperienced ones,” Taylor said.
There are 15 parts in the play, eight of which are filled by people new to HART.
Miles Rice, a 22-year-old from Weaverville, had auditioned for a production at HART once before but landed his first role with the theater. Rice will play Wint Selby, a college student who gets Richard Miller into some adult trouble.
“There is a lot of growth to (the play), but there is a lot of want and need for maturity,” he said.
Rice said he has enjoyed getting to know everyone, but he is also ready to perform for an audience and get their feedback.
Bryan Nicholls, a 24-year-old Sylva native, has performed in 11 shows at the theater. Nicholls has participated mostly in musicals, which are usually over-the-top.
“To really come down to earth and play something real … is a challenge,” he said.
Nicholls said part of the reason he keeps performing at HART is because of the bond the casts form during rehearsal.
“It’s a family,” he said
In fact, some of the cast is family. It includes a husband and wife, and father and stepdaughter. The father and stepdaughter actually play father and daughter in “Ah, Wilderness!”
Once the cast was chosen, the first couple weeks were spent blocking, or planning each character’s movements. About two weeks ago, set construction began — in this case, a white house that takes up most of the stage, a dinner table with chairs and a porch with a white wicker love seat, a couple chairs and forest green rocking chair.
Last week, the actors went off-book, meaning they would have to recite their lines from memory.
With their lines mostly memorized, the cast and crew will spend this week tweaking their performance and adding little touches that make the characters seem more realistic.
“It always comes together,” Taylor said.
The play will run for two weekends in the 255-seat auditorium.
What: “Ah, Wilderness!”
When: 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11-12, Nov. 18-19; 3 p.m. on Nov. 20.
Where: Haywood Regional Arts Theater, Waynesville.
How much: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $8 for students, and special $5 student tickets on Thursdays and Sunday.
828.456.6322 or www.harttheater.com