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Ah, Wilderness!

 

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The Washington Post
'Ah, Wilderness!': O'Neill With a Grin

By Nelson Pressley
Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Garbo Talks!" proclaimed ads for the 1930 film of Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie," the first talkie from the silent-screen siren. A similar line might be used to describe "Ah, Wilderness," the lone comedy from the King of Pain: "O'Neill Smiles!"

Hugs and laughter are practically the last things you expect from O'Neill, known for such towering dramas (often with autobiographical roots) as "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "A Moon for the Misbegotten." But "Ah, Wilderness!," performed with easy warmth in the modest American Century Theater production, is an exception. The small-town family is happy on this Fourth of July, 1906. Things turn out well.

That doesn't mean it's altogether easy. Richard Miller, a young man on the verge of college, nearly has his life ruined when his girlfriend's dad intercepts love letters bursting with hot-blooded modern poetry. Seems the shamefaced gal is renouncing him, and Richard's despair is . . . well, it's awful! And full of exclamations! He'll show everyone -- he'll go to the local tavern and get good and drunk!

Ah, liquor: The fuel that revs the engine of self-pity and waste in many an O'Neill play, even this one. Richard's charismatic Uncle Sid is a drunkard par excellence, as we learn during a long comic scene at the dinner table.

Sid, whose inebriation is nicely underplayed by John Collins, has the family in stitches with routines that seem designed to mask his weakness. In short: He'd gladly marry lonely Lilly Miller (Tina Renay Fulp), and she'd marry him, only she disapproves of his chronic boozing.

So exactly what naive Richard will learn at the local dive is a mystery, especially when he starts swigging gin and showing off for an opportunistic tart (Carolyn Myers, coming across more like a college ingenue than a wily working girl). Heartbreak and ruination might lie ahead, or maybe -- thanks to a full moon, true love and a home life that's irrepressibly affectionate -- Richard will come to his senses.

Bob Bartlett's production in Gunston Arts Center's smallish Theater II has a homespun quality that suits the play fine. As Richard's father, Kim-Scott Miller beams with joy, almost overdoing the kindly patience as he lavishes reassuring pats and pecks on the family. Rebecca Herron's reserve as Richard's mother seems right, and in the toughest role, Evan Crump dives headfirst into Richard's wild mood swings. Crump even unveils surprisingly effective comic instincts during Richard's confused moonlit rendezvous with his girl (Emily Webbe, pouting for all she's worth).

As American Century's artistic director, Jack Marshall, notes in the program, "Ah, Wilderness!" has had more takers than usual lately (Baltimore's Center Stage laid a fancy, airy design and live piano on the play last spring). And it's not a snappy comedy; it's more sentimental than laugh-out-loud funny, and O'Neill's big-hearted empathy and nostalgia run the risk -- not always avoided here -- of feeling saccharine.

But audiences may value this transparent, upbeat earnestness all the more because of its source. This is still very much O'Neill country, and it's hard not to watch anxiously these characters blithely skirt the darkness.

Ah, Wilderness!, by Eugene O'Neill. Directed by Bob Bartlett. Set design, Andrew Barry; lights, Andrew F. Griffin; costumer, Rip Claassen; sound design, Matt Otto. With Kevin O'Reilly, Tori Miller, Harry Hagerty, Christopher Tully, Kari Ginsburg, Joe Baker, Robert Heinley and Michael Feldsher. About 2 1/2 hours. Through Oct. 6 at the Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. Call 703-553-8782 or visit http://www.americancentury.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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Examiner.com
Pleasant slice of 'Wilderness'

By Doug Krentzlin
September 12, 1:40 AM

Eugene O’Neill may have been America’s greatest playwright, but he certainly wasn’t known for his light touch. Which is all the more reason that his one and only comedy, 1933’s “Ah, Wilderness!”, currently being revived by The American Century Theater, remains such a pleasant exception compared with the Sturm und Drang of his typical works.

Set on the Fourth of July in a small Connecticut town circa 1906, “Ah, Wilderness” is a slice-of-life portrait of the Miller family; specifically the coming of age of teenager Richard (Evan Crump), who, like so many of his contemporaries, is convinced that he is cursed with an awareness and sensitivity that everybody around him lacks.

The Highlights

This one’s a no-brainer. The production’s funniest scene, and the ice-breaker where the audience realizes how much they enjoy the interaction of the characters and the actors playing them, is the dinner scene at the end of Act I when the men of the house, father Nat (Kim-Scott Miller) and uncle Sid (John Collins), come back from a picnic inebriated, and the rest of the family are unable to suppress their amusement and keep from laughing.

The Cast

Every one of the performances is believable and well-rounded, with two particularly splendid standouts. Crump is both hilarious and poignant as Richard. The role of Nat has been played by a who’s who of comedians and character actors, and Miller’s take more than lives up to those of his predecessors.

The Crew

Director Bob Barlett has done a superlative job of eliciting terrific acting from his cast.

The Bottom Line

“Ah, Wilderness!” manages to be both wonderfully funny and heartwarming and is highly recommended for the entire family.

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