Tri-State Theater

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An Interview with the Director of "Ah, Wilderness!"

   Marshall University's Theatre Department has a treat for local audiences, as they've invited a professional actor and director, Terry Layman, to helm the first show of the 2015 - 2016 season, which takes the stage starting tonight - Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!

   We had the chance to interview him, and it's an illuminating conversation:

Q: Tell us your background - where you're from and your theatre experience.

Terry: I am a native of Charlotte, NC and a graduate of Wake Forest University. But I have lived in New York City and its suburbs for over 40 years where I have been a professional actor all of that time. I’ve worked on Broadway and Off Broadway, at many of the country’s regional theaters from Florida to Alaska and have done TV and film in New York. For the last 20 years I have been directing as well. I currently belong to two theatre companies in New York, The Titan Theatre in Queens and The Actors Company Theatre. My full bio is available at http://terrylayman.info.

Q: How did you get involved with the comedy Ah, Wilderness?

Terry: (Marshall professor) Jack Cirillo and I knew each other through a Cape Cod theatre at which we had both worked at different times. Several years ago we acted together in New York in a production of Hamlet. When he asked me to direct at Marshall, I suggested Ah, Wilderness. He and the designers were enthusiastic about the play and the ball started rolling.
Q: Tell us about the play.
Terry: Ah, Wilderness is a comedy about an American middle class family in 1906, celebrating the 4th of July and dealing with the coming of age of the 16-year-old son Richard, who is hilariously passionate about nearly everything including erotic poetry, socialism and, of course, a girl.

Q: This is a different kind of story for Eugene O'Neill, right?

Terry: You bet, this is a comedy and a very tender one at that. He wrote it in 1933 when he was 45 years old and before he wrote his tragic biographical masterpiece Long Days Journey Into Night and The Moon For The Misbegotten about his dissolute brother.  Ah, Wilderness depicts the kind of family O’Neil wished he had had: An intelligent, sober and loving dad; a loving and stable mother and quirky but wholesome siblings. Much of the comedy comes from the temptations that Richard toys with and the negative example of an alcoholic uncle. Unlike O’Neill’s darker plays, his hero walks close to the edge of a dissolute life but is saved by the safety net of his loving family.

Q: Tell us about your experience working with Marshall's students (and staff) on the show.

Terry: Here I have to gush. The student actors have tackled Ah, Wilderness with a passion and level of craft that amaze me. Their ability to live in a different time and to investigate the details of their characters is impressive. They are immensely qualified to bring this play to life in all of its comic tenderness. They are all wonderful collaborators. They continue to surprise and entertain. What a generous and devoted group!
   The resources available here at Marshall are also first rate. The facilities are some of the finest I have seen. The faculty designers have supported the students brilliantly with creative and exciting lights, sets and costumes.
Q: Is it more challenging presenting this show in the black box setting, as opposed to the big stage?

Terry: Not at all. In fact I think the show benefits from the intimacy. The play takes place in four separate locations. Perhaps with a big stage proscenium you could have a turntable with elaborate realistic settings or you could drag on various walls. But I feel such grandeur would overwhelm the delicate beauty of the piece and take focus off of the connection between the people on stage. Partly because it is from the same era, I have borrowed the device of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and added narrators to set our scenes in the audience’s imagination. They use O’Neill’s often quite wry stage directions.This works particularly well with our two charming actors as our guides, who also play various other roles in the show. The space is perfect for this play.

Q: Why would you recommend this show to our readers?
Terry: If you like to laugh this is your play. If you have or wish you had a loving family this is your play. If you crave the reassurance that the human condition has a strong chance against the negative in the world, this is your play. If you want to see an artful depiction of true “Family Values”, this is your play. You will be rewarded by this play and invigorated by the talents and passion of some very fine actors.
   Thanks, Terry!
   Ah, Wilderness is presented by Marshall University’s Department of Theatre on Sept. 30, Oct. 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m. at The Francis-Booth Experimental Theatre in the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center in Huntington. General admission is $20. Senior citizens and faculty tickets are $15. Children 5 - 12 are $7. Admission is free to full-time Marshall students with a valid ID.

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