“But then- if we really, really love – why, then something else is bound to happen soon that changes everything again, and it’s all as it was before the misunderstanding, and everything works out all right in the end. That’s the way it is with life.” (Lily, Ah, Wilderness)
In this quote, Lily tries to soothe her teenage nephew’s aching heart. While her attempts seem to fall short, the words act as an excellent summary for Eugene O’Neil’s play. Love is full of unexpected turns of events, but just as everything can go up in flames, it always goes back to the way it should be in the end. The Goodman Theatre’s final installment of their 2016/2017 season reminds audiences that summer is a time for love, and no matter your age, it is never too late to let it consume you.
Ah, Wilderness! at the Goodman Theatre
Written by Eugene O’Neill and directed by Steve Scott, Ah, Wilderness! follows Richard Miller (Niall Cunningham), a young teenage boy who lives for poetry and literature. When he thinks the love of his life, Muriel McComber (Ayssette Muñoz) has rejected him, he enters a downward spiral of heartbreak. Alongside his journey, we witness his parents Nat Miller (Randall Newsome) and Essie Miller (Ora Jones) explore the emotions and power dynamics within their own marriage and Sid Davis (Larry Bates) and Lily Miller (Kate Fry) navigate how to handle their unsettled romance from the past.
O’Neill’s script is witty, utilizing a range of humor from bawdy jokes to subtle literary references. At the same time, O’Neill captures a lovely sense of honesty in his depictions of love. Richard is young, but in placing his relationship story alongside that of the other, more mature characters, O’Neill reminds the audience that we are never too young – or too old – to be consumed by love. In allowing ourselves to fall into the joys of love, however, we also run the risk of pain, and the O’Neill’s story beautifully showcases that roller coaster ride of a journey.
Stunning Stage Design
Helmed by Scott, the creative team successfully transports the audience to a 4th of July evening in a beach town, starting with Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design. Taking up the majority of the stage is the Miller home, surrounded by walls on three sides, and allowing the audience to see into their living room on the fourth. Decorated with tasteful furniture, the home gives the audience a useful glimpse into the wealth of the family. Surrounding the house are piles of sand with a couple of sailboats resting on top, which allows us to embrace the beach town that surrounds the home.
Rosenthal’s collaboration with Lighting Designer Aaron Spivey made some gorgeous moments unfold on stage, particularly with the home's walls that resemble the sky. Towards the end of Act II, for example, there is a scene that takes place late at night. Richard paces the beach in the midst of his monologue about his love for Muriel, and the surrounding walls take on a deep, midnight blue, with hints of clouds floating past a crescent moon. The effect was gorgeous and helped emphasize the mood of the moment.
Costume Designer Amy Clark further enhanced the overall aesthetic of the stage in her designs. Full of bright and vibrant colors, Clark captures the atmosphere of the beach town in the Miller family clothing. While this is a family of high status and wealth, the story also takes place in the midst of summer on the Fourth of July, and the fun, celebratory elements of that time found their way into young Mildred Miller’s (Rochelle Therrien) pale pink dress, the blue sailor outfit on the youngest of the family, Tommy Miller (Matthew Abraham), and the shades of bright blue in Essie Miller’s ensemble.
Clark also finds subtle ways to share the differences in personality between the male characters, particularly in the contrast between Richard and his older relatives. For example, while his father dresses in a respectable tan suit, Richard constantly has his eyes buried in his books, and his wrinkled pants and slightly unkempt shirt emphasize his priorities.
O’Neill’s script is not easy, and the ensemble as a whole successfully carry the ups and downs of the story from start to finish.
Larry Bates’ Sid Davis is hysterical, and the moment that he entered the family dinner drunk immediately invited the audience into a state of laughter. At the same time however, Bates shares the tragedy in Sid’s story. He walks that balance, which allows the audience to empathize with those heartbreaking moments he shares with Kate Fry’s Lilly Miller, who showcases an equally beautiful performance.
Ora Jones as Essie Miller is brilliant, and her stage chemistry with Randall Newsome as her husband is spot-on. The two showcase an amusing power dynamic in which he may make the final decisions, but Essie clearly runs the household. While they may run into conflict, Essie and Nat also clearly love each other, and Jones and Newsome share some lovely moments of romance.
Niall Cunningham as Richard Miller captures the innocence of young love. The teenager feels that his entire world is crashing down around him, and simply does not care who else he brings in the process. The honesty in Cunnigham’s character particularly shines in his final monologue about his love for Muriel, as this literature-enthusiast struggles to find the words to describe the depth of his emotions. Ayssette Muñoz as the female young lover was sweet, and her Muriel created a lovely counterpart to Cunningham’s slightly more immature teenager.
Witty and fun, Ah, Wilderness! is the perfect way to celebrate this time of year. After all – as O’Neill’s play clearly reminds us –summer is the time for love.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves. POST Loves
Through July 23, 2017
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursday at 2:00pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm
Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
Sundays at 7:30pm
Run Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with intermission
170 N Dearborn Street
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.