Professional and amateur thespians throughout the United States are celebrating the centennial of playwright Eugene O'Neill's birth this year with productions of his plays.

Brigham Young University will pay homage to the celebrated author twice, beginning with "Ah, Wilderness!" Sept. 29-Oct. 15 in the Pardoe Theater of the Harris Fine Arts Center. The Theatre Department will also present O'Neill's three plays of the sea - "Bound East for Cardiff," "In the Zone" and "Ile" - in November.Highlighting the BYU shows will be performances by faculty members Charles Metten, Jean Jenkins and Paul Nibley.

"I've wanted to direct some of my colleagues ever since I got here," says Robert Nelson, faculty director. "This play seemed to offer an ideal opportunity to work with some of my respected colleagues who are approximately the right ages for the characters.

"It's good for the students, at least occasionally, to work with people who have a good deal more of life and stage experiences than they. It's also a good cautionary experience for the faculty as a reminder of the time and energy demands of a role. It helps us all to be more patient, gracious and considerate as directors."

Other performers will include Ryan Frost, Christianna Nelson, Troy Louis Jackson, Kate Jensen, Charles Lynn Frost, J. Todd Adams, Gordon Penn, Helen Hervey, Patricia Reading, Craig Steiner, Brian E. Stanton, Jr. and Julie Hale.

Serving as set designer is Charles Henson. Rory Scanlon is costume designer and Traci W. Hainsworth is both assistant director and production stage manager.

"Ah, Wilderness!," glibly described as an autobiography written on a good day, is a largely fantasized work portraying life as O'Neill would have liked it to be.

All of his plays, but particularly this one, are important forerunners of his masterwork, "Long Day's Journey Into Night," according to Nelson. "O'Neill finally was able to face the ghosts upon him," says Nelson.

"In spite of the apparent innocence and overall happiness of this play," he says, "it is still very easy to see some of the major elements that troubled O'Neill as a child, as a spouse and as a parent."

In this homey, nostalgic comedy of adolescence and middle age in 1906 Connecticut, for example, O'Neill has his young protagonist, Richard, try on a range of values he sees in the adult world around him, including socialism, `bad women' and liquor.

"In this and other ways, it's possible to gain insights into O'Neill," says Nelson.

"Ah Wilderness!" will open Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. It will then run daily, except Sundays and Mondays, through Oct. 15. A matinee is planned Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. Tickets are available through the drama ticket office, 378-7447.