A New England teen does considerable growing up over the course of thirty-six midsummer hours in Ah, Wilderness!, Eugene O’Neil’s timeless bit of early twentieth-century Americana, delightfully revived by A Noise Within in a production that could only have been improved by the casting of an age-appropriate lead.
Standing in for O’Neill himself in this idealized vision of the family he later gave rather darker shadings in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night is sixteen-year-old Richard Miller (Matt Gall), a self-described “radical” about to assert his personal independence while learning to appreciate the importance of family in a teenager’s life this Fourth-Of-July weekend.
Surrounding Richard in his small-town Connecticut abode are his old-school stay-at-home mother Essie (Deborah Strang) and his more progressive newspaper owner father Nat (Nicholas Horman); his charming but alcohol-dependent paternal uncle Sid (Alan Blumenfeld); his maternal aunt Lily (Kitty Swink), once engaged to Sid and now resigned to a life of spinsterhood; his nineteen-year-old brother Arthur (Ian Littleworth), a Yale “college man” entirely too full of himself; his fifteen-year-old sister Mildred (Katie Hume), who likes nothing more than to tease her brothers about their love lives; and Tommy (Samuel Genghis Christian), at eleven the family’s high-spirited youngest member.
Richard soon finds his budding relationship with girl-next-door Muriel McComber (Emily Goss) threatened by her overbearing, over-protective father David (Marcelo Tubert), a forced rejection that sends him and Arthur’s college friend Wint (Conor Sheehan) out for an evening of drinking and loose women like two-bucks-a-pop Belle (Emily Kosloski).
Well, who ever said true love’s course ran smooth?
Director Steven Robman and his gifted cast effectively evoke the innocence of small-town America circa 1906, linking scenes with so many of the decade’s song standards (“By The Light Of The Silvery Moon” is just one of the many nostalgic, era-establishing ditties featured here), you could almost call this Ah, Wilderness! a musical.
As Richard, talented 2009 Ithaca College grad Gall gives the pure-hearted idealist his earnest all, but the A Noise Within newcomer reads mid-twenties, making the character’s immaturity and naivete, however sincerely played, seem forced.
(Truth be told, Robman has also cast the adults surrounding Richard with actors considerably older than the playwright intends them, but as their age is not pivotal in O’Neill’s script, this discrepancy proves less problematic, particularly when you’ve got A Noise Within-caliber actors playing them.)
The marvelous Horman and Strang are the parents (or more likely the grandparents) that Ozzie And Harriet Nelson (or Ward and June Cleaver) might have had, with Blumenfeld’s booze-guzzling Sid and Swink’s starchy spinster Lily proving equal treats.
Goss is pure perfection as Richard’s dream girl Muriel, with Littleworth’s know-it-all Arthur, Hume’s vivacious Mildred, and Christian’s high-spirited Tommy completing the Miller siblings with abundant verve (and in Hume’s and Christian’s case, piano and violin artistry as well).
Kosloski’s hooker with a heart of (almost) gold is another Ah, Wilderness! gem as are Kelsey Carhew’s feisty maid Norah, Sheehan’s frat boy Wint, Tubert’s finger-wagging neighbor Mr. McComber and his loquacious Bartender, and Matthew Henerson’s Salesman.
Scenic designer Frederica Nascimento, costume designer Garry D. Lennon, lighting designer Tom Ontiveros, musical director Jonathan Tessoro, sound designer Cricket S. Myers, props master Erin Walley, and hair, wig, and makeup designer Danielle Richter join their prodigious talents to evoke O’Neill’s seen-through-rose-colored-glasses small-town America with artistry and flair.
Abigail Marks is assistant director. Marcedes L. Clanton is stage manager and Catherine Lee is assistant stage manager. Lea Branyan is assistant lighting designer. Additional program credits are shared by Sets to Go (scenic construction) and Orlando de la Paz and Sets to Go (scenic painting).
A miscast Richard may slightly tarnish A Noise Within’s sparkling revival of Eugene O’Neill’s one-and-only foray outside the dramatic, but sparkle this one does. Indeed, with actors as fine as these, the Connecticut Millers once again deliver the nostalgic comedic goods with crowd-delighting charm.
A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena. Through May 20. See website for detailed schedule. Reservations: 626 356-3100 ext. 1.
March 11, 2107
Photos: Craig Schwartz