Based on true events, Wilderness is the story of six teens kidnapped by their parents, and sent to an American wilderness therapy camp for troubled teens.
Told in a non-linear manner, Wilderness not only introduces us to the kids, but also their earnest and easy-going team leaders. They badger each other, complaining about the conditions they suffer in the desert.
Playwrights Seth Bockley and Anne Hamburger also introduce us to the parents, including a same sex couple, who express concern and exasperation at the breakdown of communications with their children. We learn that some of the kids have addiction problems, some have mental health issues, and some act out by cutting herself or through petty vandalism or theft.
Under the direction of Genevieve Fleming, some of the chief successes in this production come from the movement montages.
Created by Raes Calvert, these montages capture everything from a mother’s angst, to the children’s (mostly forced) transportation to the desert, and their letter writing home. The talented cast make the most of these scenes, filling them with imagination and wonder as they combine movement with song. One particularly beautiful moment comes as the ensemble creates a rustling sound by gently waving sheets of paper.
Perhaps it was the earnestness of the script, combined with the excitement of opening night, which resulted in some of the actors shouting their lines. The result was a rather shrill first half to this ninety-minute show. As the show progressed, some settled quite nicely, and began listening with simplicity.
Eventually opening up about their problems, there are some genuinely touching moments. For example, the image of Cole, played by Nolan McConnell-Fidyk, on the side of cliff attempting to run away, but with nowhere to go, was heartbreaking.
At the same time, Wilderness suffers from too many characters, making it difficult to invest in any of them. Despite its important subject matter, the non-linear storytelling also made it difficult to connect.
As the characters collectively reached their conclusion, although a little idealized, Wilderness delivered an appreciated feel-good ending inside its uneven script.
Wilderness by Seth Bockley and Anne Hamburger. Directed by Genevieve Fleming. A Studio 58 production. On stage at Langara College’s Studio 58 (100 W 49th Ave, Vancouver) until December 3. Visit http://studio58.ca for tickets and information.