Monthly Archive for: ‘October, 2015’

Ah, Wilderness! is a “feel good” play at A.C.T.

AH, WILDERNESS! Comedy by Eugene O’Neill. Directed by Casey Stangl. American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco, CA. 415.749.2228 or October 14–November 8, 2015

Ah, Wilderness! is a “feel good” play at A.C.T. Rating: ★★★☆☆ and 1/2

Eugene O’Neil had earned three Pulitzer Prizes for drama (Beyond the Horizon, 1920, Anna Christie, 1922, Strange Interlude, 1928) before he wrote his first and only comedy Ah, Wilderness! that had an extended run on Broadway and on the road in 1933-34. With a few caveats, it is being given an excellent production by A.C.T. and is a ‘should see play.’ Even with the judicious cutting the play runs two hours and forty minutes with intermission and Henri Bergson’s theory of ‘relative time’ kicks in but not in the sense that ‘time flies while you’re having fun.’

You will be having fun at the expense of the extended Miller family and a few other inhabitants in a large-small town in Connecticut, July 4 and 5, 1906. The primary member of the Miller family and O’Neill’s protagonist is senior high school valedictorian Richard (Thomas Stagnitta) who is an idealistic ‘wanna be’ poet and somewhat confirmed Socialists in love with underclassman Muriel McComber (Rosa Palmeri). He is fascinated by poetry of Omar Khayyam and Swinburne and sends surreptitious quotes to Muriel that are intercepted by her parents who banned her from seeing him. That is not his only problem since he is also semi-disruptive of the staid Miller family with his rants about the oppressed working classes.

The other family members are Richard’s parents’ newspaper editor Nat (Anthony Fusco) and Essie (Rachel Ticotin) Miller and their other children. They are Arthur (Michael McIntire) a student at Yale home for the summer, teenage Mildred (Christina Liang) and youngster Tommy (Brandin Osborne). Also living in the home are staid Aunt Lilly Miller (Margo Hall) and drunken Uncle Sid (Dan Hyatt) who have had an on and off relationship for 15 years and obviously care for each other. There are 15 in the cast and most are from the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2016. This mixture of students with a professional nucleus creates acting dichotomy that is accentuated by the use of non-traditional casting with actors of mixed ethnicity.

But the play’s the thing and Richard having been apparently spurned by his love Muriel seeks solace by accompanying an acquaintance to a dive bar where he has his first encounter with alcohol and a hooker, Belle (Caitlan Taylor). That scene is both touching and hilarious ending in ignominy for Richard that is assuaged by family bonds. The secondary love interest is the relationship of the much loved alcoholic Uncle Sid and the understanding Aunt Lily. Local favorites Dan Hiatt and Margo Hall give superb performances that touch the heart strings.

Director Casey Stengl, who replaced the deceased Mark Rucker, allows Richard to be much too strident and because of this the reuniting with Muriel who appears late in the play lacks the charisma generated by Hall and Hiatt. Anthony Fusco and Rachel Ticotin are brilliant as the lynchpins of the family and of the play. Their repartee in agreement and disagreement do great justice to O’Neill’s dialog with their expert acting. It is suggested that this play creates an ideal family that O’Neill wishes he had. If so, he identifies with Richard who goes on to an apparent happy ending that was not to be with the playwright. That is a primary reason to see this play.

With the caveat that director Stangl allows the protagonist to get out of hand, the staging on Ralph Funicello’s multi-scrim set is more than admirable and this production earns a “should see’ rating.

CAST: Alphabetical: Matt Baldiga (Salesman), Matt Cabparat (Wint Selby), Anthony Fusco (Nat Miller), Margo Hall (Lily Miller), Dan Hiatt (Sid Davis), Christina Liang (Mildred), Michael McIntyre (Arthur), Rosa Palmeri (Muriel McComber), Jenn Reddish (Nora), Adrian Roberts (David McComber), Tom Stagnitta (Richard), Caitlyn Taylor (Belle), Rachel Ticotin (Essie), and Artie Wise (Bartender)

CREATIVE TEAM: Ralph Funicello (set design), Robert Wierzel (lighting design), Jessie Amoroso (costume design), Paul Prendergast (sound design)

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of

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