Production teaches life lessons

Photo Courtesy of Orange Coast College

Director Bethany Kraemer’s rendition of “Wilderness” exposed the harsh underlying truths that young adults and parents endure.

Set in the mountains of Utah, teenagers confronted emotions that mimic the terrain. The play was a welcomed break from the deluge of coverage about our current predicament with COVID-19.

The original script by Seth Bockley and Anne Hamburger left room for interpretation through musical and dance sequences, leaving me stranded in the wilderness with them.

An easy yellow light illuminated the stage, providing a glimmer of the journey we call our lives. I was transfixed on the struggles of six teenagers, all fighting to find themselves at an intensive therapy camp.

The play included original interviews from parents, desperate to find the antidote for emotional and substance abuse disorders. What they discovered was an array of issues that everyday teens face within our society.

The issues vary from identity, anger, self-harm, depression, substance abuse, child abuse and suicide. The parents deal with shame, regret, desperation and attachment.

Each teen portrayed the masks we wear in order to survive in society.

Out in the wilderness, the field staff attempted to guide them through the bumpy road of recovery and teaches them to become aware of their faults. The staff emphasizes that there is no direct path or cure, but an on-going endeavor to analyze their actions.

Although it is easy to blame a child for all their misconduct, the play shined a light on the overall structure that nurtured that child’s struggle.

Mom, played by Justine King, demonstrated the struggle parents confront while their child is receiving treatment and the desperation for them to be OK.

The production displayed the changes both parties need to make in order to reach equilibrium.

Toward the end, I got a sense that personality and substance abuse disorders are in fact a huge taboo in our community and that it will only continue to be a problem if ignored.

The teens reflect on their time spent in camp and, like real life, some relapse into their old habits, others go on to pursue their dreams and some understand that they need more help.

The production, a collaboration of dance, music and theatre was an effort to destigmatize the issues at hand, said Tom Bruno, chair of Orange Coast College’s Theatre Arts department.

Bruno, who came across the play through colleague Cynthia Corley, decided it was too close to home to be able to direct.

Kraemer took on the challenge instead.

“We are trying to interpret it in a way that it will connect to OCC as a community,” Kraemer said.

She hoped people would walk away feeling seen and identify with someone in the play.

The actors tapped into their emotions and delivered a performance that left me driving home with a lump in my throat reflecting on the experiences that shaped my personality.

Each transition was performed seamlessly and felt natural. The comedic elements provided a breath of fresh air in between the emotionally packed scenes.

The impact of personality and substance abuse disorders on the family was stressed throughout the production and showed us the struggles the average person can face.

“Wilderness” taught audiences to be tolerant.