Ah, Wilderness! at the Goodman Theatre

By Eugene O’Neill.

Directed by Steve Scott.

At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago.

Sweet family comedy is a fitting last show for director Steve Scott as he retires from the Goodman theatre.

Penned in 1933, Ah, Wilderness! is Eugene O’Neill’s only comedy that plays as a nostalgic work about an idilic small town family. Ah, Wilderness! is a family comedy and a coming of age story that O Neill called a “wishing out loud for what I wished my childhood to have been.” It was O’ Neill’s only comedy. It does feature some familiar O’ Neill  themes – drunkenness, lost love, and dreams of a better life but here it is optimistic, warm and innocently happy. In the hands of Steve Scott,  Ah, Wilderness is a warm family comedy about an innocent time in America as the 20th century is starting. Ah, Wilderness is a warm family comedy about an innocent time in America as the 20th century is starting.

We meet the Miller family – four children, the mother and father with an aunt and an uncle all surviving living together in an upper middle class Connecticut house. It is the 4th of July, 1906 in a time of pure innocence in America. The patriarch, Nat Miller (the commanding Randall Newsome) is a kind heart and understanding father while Essie (a winning Ora Jones) is the controlling old-fashion mother always looking out for her children. Sid Davis (Larry Bates) is Essie’s drunken brother who loves Lily Miller (the charming Kate Fry) Nat’s sister who refuses to marry Sid as long as he drinks.

The Miller children consists of Tommy (Matthew Abraham), an eleven year old high spirited kid; Mildred (Rochelle Therrien), a fifteen year old beauty with too many boy friends. Arthur (Travis A. Knight) is the nineteen year old Yale football player with an adult mentality. The story revolves around the self-aware intellectual, rebellious high school senior, seventeen year old Richard (the terrific Niall Cunningham) who reads too many romantic poems and socialist books.  He is both in love with Muriel McComber (Ayssette Munoz) and a young intellectual rebel challenging the status quo.

Over the two and a half hour production (set designer Todd Rosenthal’s terrific set), we grow to like and empathize with the  fine, homespun values of early 20th Century life that finds children basically listening and obeying their parents; where sex was forbidden until marriage; and where women were protected d and respected.  This is a warm hearted  family comedy filled with honest and innocence where morality had strict rules and social constrains ruled behavior.

Richard wrote or actually quoted the great poets including Oscar Wilde and Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to his girlfriend Muriel that her father (Ricardo Gutierrez) saw and made Muriel write a breakup letter to Richard. He was devastated and he acted out his frustration in a barroom session with a prostitute that played as a hoot. Richard’s first romantic crush offers rich material for comedy. Niall Cunningham is fine as the idealistic pure innocent youth. Randall Newsome and Ora Jones  are outstanding as the loving parents. Larry bates steals his scenes as the drunk uncle unable to control his addiction. Kate Fry isempathetic as the determined Lily. This show is a true ensemble triumph with a nice pace and an  honest warmth.  It reminds of the nostalgic time when goodness and total honesty ruled. Our time with the Millers garners laughs.  Who thought he could write such a funny and warm comedy?. O’Neill must have been sober in 1933 when he penned Ah, Wilderness!

This show is a true ensemble triumph with a nice pace and an honest warmth.  It reminds us of the nostalgic time when goodness and total honesty ruled. Our time with the Millers garners laughs.  Who thought he could write such a funny and warm comedy?. O’Neill must have been sober in 1933 when he penned Ah, Wilderness! in only a month. Steve Scott’s production is a fitting end to his more than 30 years of fine creative work. See Ah, Wilderness! and discover why Eugene O “Neill is the greatest American playwright of the 20th Century.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-4800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $25 – $75, Tuesday, July 11th 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays 7:30 p.m., Thursdays 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (no 2 p.m. on 7/20), Fridays 8 p.m.,Saturdays 2 and 8 p.m. (no 2 pm on 7/1), Sundays 2 and 7:30 p.m. no evening on 7/16 or 7/23), running time is 2houes, 15 minutes with intermission.

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