Ah, Wilderness! is the most unique play in the Eugene O'Neill canon and it received what may be its most unique production ever this spring at Lincoln Center Theatre Company in New York. A gentle family comedy by one of our most ferocious playwrights, it is usually given heavily naturalistic stagings, full of period detail. However, director Daniel Sullivan had a different idea; according to LD Peter Kaczorowski, "He said he didn't want to drag onstage every doily and pouffe and curtain, all the things you might expect to see in a full Victorian household. He warned me that he was going to rely heavily on lighting to take us places and fill in details."
The director meant what he said. Thomas Lynch's setting consisted of a square deck that floated in the center of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre's large stage; an abstract cyc made up of large fields of purple and green was located at the rear. Below the cyc was a dark space through which the actors made entrances and exits. "We referred to it as the Nautilus," says Kaczorowski. The effect of the actors appearing and disappearing into this band of darkness helped underscore the production's quietly melancholy tone.
Another contributing factor was Kaczorowski's beautiful color palette, which mixed blues, purples, and greens to create a richly colored look. The LD says he worked with the colors of the cyc and then blended in others of his own choosing. "Everything in the show was multi-layered," he says. "Almost every scene had many layers of things going on." The cyc, which is in fact a rear projection screen, is rear-lit, allowing for subtle color changes and also for fireworks effects, which were achieved by using ellipsoidals with patterns. "They were very involved effects sequences," Kaczorowski says about the fireworks. "We played a long time with timing that made them seem exciting yet languorous, and I think it was actually fairly real-looking."
Lighting is also responsible for some of the play's loveliest transitional moments. When young hero Richard Miller staggers home drunk from a failed assignation at a local bar, his wandering path is charted by tightly focused corridors of blue light; during a later scene, hapless lovers Sid Davis and Essie Miller wander along the rear of the stage, taking a romantic moonlight walk. Lighting also helps create the play's final moment, when parents Essie and Nat Miller, embracing in their bedroom, are surrounded by various members of their extended family, revealed in a beautifully contrasting blue wash.
"The design had to be evocative," says the LD, "or else we really weren't going anywhere. I think that, emotionally, the design successfully filled in blanks that were not physically onstage. Also, with this design, I think we stayed in intimate contact with people throughout the play. And that was a necessity, or else the beautiful small scenes between small characters would be lost."
The lighting plot consisted almost entirely of ETC Source Fours, along with two Wildfire 400SF spot flood fresnels and Lighting & Electronics Broad Cycs. The show was controlled with an ETC Obsession 1600 console. Other lighting personnel included assistant designers Traci Klainer and Karen Spahn, and house electrician Patrick Merryman. Lighting for the production was supplied by BASH Lighting Services. Ah, Wilderness! ran through the beginning of May.