I ran into Oliver over the weekend. I asked him if he was going to the opening for Eclipse. He told me Eugene O’Neill was too heavy for the summer. I thought back on the recent O’Neill offerings: “Beyond the Horizon,” “Mourning Becomes Electra,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” and “The Iceman Cometh.” What were the common elements? Drama soaked in booze with a big old shot of tainted love. I feared Oliver may be right. But it’s with delight, I proclaim loudly, “Hey-O, you’re wrong!”
Eclipse Theatre presents the second offering in its one playwright-one season, AH, WILDERNESS! It’s July 4, 1906. The Millers are in holiday mode. The house is crackling with adolescent fireworks and love. Teenage Richard Miller has written love letters to the girl next door. He has used the words of his favorite authors to convey his feelings. Richard’s racy reiteration has everyone in an uproar. Uh-oh! When he gets a *Dear Dick* letter, the inexperienced youth turns to booze and sex to escape. AH, WILDERNESS! is simply an adorable romantic comedy.
This play depicts the way Playwright Eugene O’Neill wishes his childhood was. It’s about a big, loving family. Sure, there is booze and unrequited love. But mostly, it’s an affectionate family that worries about and teases each other. It is very “Meet Me in St. Louis” sans the songs. The characters captivate with homespun goodness. Under the direction of Kevin Hagan, the talented and large cast invite you into their tight-knit celebration. The welcoming envelopes you in jocular familiarity. I feel at home immediately. Brian Parry (Nat) and Cheri Chenoweth (Essie) preside over the festivities with good old-fashion warmth. There is an ever-present merriment. It is most apparent when the family is giggling around the supper table. This charming family will make you want to pull up a chair and hang out for the summer.
There is a lot to love about this production but the most obvious is Alex Weisman (Richard). A hilarious Weisman plays lovesick and boozy with perfect comedic timing. Whether he’s sweet-talking his girl, his hooker or his ma, Weisman endears with his amusing antics and his heartfelt words. Weisman has a sophisticated vulnerability that is just... ah, sweet! The ending satisfies with a tenderness that made me misty. Ah, O’Neill, you big old softie!
AH, WILDERNESS is a turn-of-the-century, light and frothy, summer rom-com!
SIDENOTE TO OLIVER SAVA: Take Kleenx!
Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes includes an intermission
At Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Kevin Hagan
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2pm
Thru September 2nd
Buy Tickets at www.eclipsetheatre.com