celebrated playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote the humorous Ah, Wilderness!
in the early 1930s, he had recently won his second
Pulitzer Prize for Drama (Beyond the
, 1920, Strange Interlude
1928). Legend has it that the idea came to him in a dream and that he wrote the
entire script in only five or six weeks. Wilderness
is O’Neill’s only true comedy, and many have dismissed it as one of his
lesser works—something he quickly banged-out before going on to serious works
like The Iceman Cometh
and Long Day’s Journey Into Night.
But American Players Theatre
in Spring Green is intrigued by that
contrast in O’Neill’s style, and continues the early part of its season with a
preview of Ah, Wilderness!
of O’Neill’s work is known for its darkness, but he wrote Ah, Wilderness! at one of the rare times in his life when he was
actually happy. He had just returned to the United
States from France and wanted to remember his
childhood in a way that it had never been in real life. Director John Langs
says he was drawn to the play because
it differed from the rest of O’Neill’s work. Langs notes that the play shows
“the redemptive power of nature,” as opposed to the darker side of humannature that so often arises in
Ah, Wilderness! is a lighthearted ensemble piece set
on the Fourth of July in New England, 1906.
actor Steve Haggard plays 17-year-old Richard Miller, son of newspaper
publisher Nat Miller (played by seasoned stage veteran Henry Woronicz). Richard
envisions himself as a radical and a poet, but is very inexperienced in the
world. He is quite sure that he is in love with his neighbor Muriel McComber
(Kelsey Brennan), but later finds himself falling for a lovely, sophisticated
blonde named Belle (Emily Simoness).
play contrasts youth with experience in a theme that carries over into the
cast. Both New York-based Simoness and Brennan are members of APT’s 2008
Apprentice Company. Brennan also was an acting intern with the Milwaukee Rep
this past season. Woronicz has performed nationwide over the past several
decades, and brings a sense of gravity to the role of the father. The talented
Tracy Michelle Arnold plays Nat’s wife, Essie Miller. In contrast to the actual role of matriarch in a large
won’t be given much to do in this play. Arnold, who has held larger roles in
the past (including memorable performances in Renaissance Theaterworks’ String of Pearls and APT’s Night of the Iguana in 2007), should add
an interesting edge to O’Neill’s comedy. She isn’t the only actress whose
talent is greater than her role, as she is joined by longtime APT member Sarah
Day in the role of Essie’s younger sister Lily.
American Players Theatre’s production of Ah,
Wilderness!runs June 21-Oct. 4.