By Eugene O’ Neill
Directed by kelvin Hagan
Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
The humorous side of Eugene O ‘Neill comes out with his 1933 family comedy, Ah, Wilderness!
Eclipse Theatre Company dedicates itself to the works of one playwright each season. In 2012, it is Eugene O’ Neill. His 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.” Ah, Wilderness! 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.
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 (Brian Parry) is a kind heart and understanding father while Essie (Cheri Chenoweth) is the controlling old-fashion mother always looking out for her children. Sid Davis (Kevin Scott) is Essie’s drunken brother who loves Lily Miller (Rebecca Prescott) Nat’s sister who refuses to marry Sid as long as he drinks.
The Miller children consists of Tommy (Ben Parkhill), an eleven year old high spirited kid; Mildred (Rae Gray), a fifteen year old beauty with too many boy friends. Arthur 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 (Alex Weisman) who reads too many romantic poems and socialist books. He is both in love with Muriel McComber (Fiona Robert) and a young intellectual rebel challenging the status quo.
Over the two and a half hour production (on director/set designer Kevin Hagan’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 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. Alex Weisman is terrific as the idealistic pure innocent youth. Brian Parry and Cheri Chenoweth are outstanding as the loving parents. Kevin Scott is halarious as the drunk uncle unable to control his habit. Rebecca Prescott is believable as the determined Lily. This show is a true ensemble delight with a breezy pace and a warmth that exudes truth. It is a theatrical treat to go back to that nostalgic time when goodness and total honesty rules. We enjoy our two hours with the Miller’s as we admire the depth of Eugene O’ Neill’s talents. Who thought he could write such a funny and warm comedy?. He must have been sober in 1933 when he penned Ah, Wilderness! in only a month. The Eclipse Theatre production is a family friendly show filled with heart and humor. See it and discover why Eugene O “Neill is the greatest American playwright of the 20th Century.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 29, 2012
For more info checkout the Ah, Wilderness! page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6875, www.eclipsetheatre.com, tickets $28, $23 seniors, $18 students, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7;30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through September 2, 2012