Thursday October 19th 2017

“Ah,Wilderness !”

Each year,Eclipse Theatre Company selects a playwright for their season. In this, their 20th season, the playwright is Eugene O’Neill and their current production is “Ah,Wilderness!”, a warm and fuzzy story about a family at the turn of the century and how they deal with their teen age son, who is experiencing his “coming of age”.  In Chicago, we have the perfect actor to take on a “coming of age” role in the delightful Alex Weisman, who will probably be playing young roles for many years. His Richard has just the right charm and naivety to make you feel that he is sixteen and his comic timing continues to show his skill. Directed by Kevin Hagan who also designed a very solid set, this is a slick production of a show that under normal conditions moves slowly, but by moving a few scenes around, instead of  three acts with two intermissions, this production ( 2 1/2 hours in total) is done with three scenes in the first act and four in Act Two. One less intermission is a blessing, not only for the time element, but this allows the audience to keep in focus on this intense romantic comedy.

The majority of the play takes place in the Miller home, in a Connecticut town ( there are hundreds of little towns in Connecticut, so it could be any) either in the sitting-room or the Dining room and the other two scenes allow the set change to be swiftly done, once again allowing the audience not to break the concentration. The cast that has been assemble to tell this story is solid from top to bottom. Richard’s father,Nat, the editor of the local newspaper is deftly handled by Chicago favorite Brian Parry and his mother by Cheri Cheneweth ( another solid character actor in town). His sister ( Rae Gray, who many of us have witnessed growing up on our area stages), younger brother, Tommy (Ben Parkhill) and older brother Arthur ( Nick Vidal). Living with them are aunt Lily ( solidly played by Rebecca Prescott) and uncle Sid ( well done by Kevin Scott, another actor with just the right comic touch). A typical family, living a typical suburban type life and celebrating the 4th of July.    

Richard is in love with Murial (  Fiona Robert,who waits until the next to the last scene for her entrance- a charming scene that helps bring a touch of truth to all that took place earlier). As the play begins and we meet all the characters, Richard is given a letter from Muriel advising him that she no longer wants to be a part of his life. He becomes angry and irritated- made at women, all women!. He spouts adages and sayings and decides to “show them all”. His friend invites him to come out to a bar in the hotel, one in the seedy part of town, so he can drown his sorrows. There he meets Belle( an incredible performance by the lovely Margaret Grace). O’Neill gives her one scene as well, but this is a scene that is worth the price of the ticket as Richard learns to drink, to smoke, to flirt and kiss. He also learns that growing up is not as easy as he thought it would be. Kudos to the actors who take on the ensemble roles as they help to bring all the pieces together;Jerry Bloom,Tony Rossi and Becca Drew Emmerich, who prove that there is no such thing as a small part!

This is not one of my favorite O’Neill plays, but Eclipse, as always, takes it to a new level in story telling, as well as bringing all the comic elements out. To make a production as solid as this, it takes many people off the stage as well as those on the stage; Rachell Lambert’s costumes are just the right period, Heather Timmerman’s props are ideal, Mike Winkleman’s lighting and Ian Stuges Milliken’s sound, perfect. The orchestration of the set changes a shandled by the stage manager, Sara Carranza, keeps the flow in action, so whoever decided how to do it, Bravo!

“Ah , Wilderness!” will continue  at The Athenaeum Theatre, third floor “studio ” theater through September 6th with performances as follows:

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. ( there are post-show discussions on the Sunday performances except for the closing, at no charge.

Tickets  are $28 ( some “rush” half price tix  subject to availability) $23 for seniors and $18 for students with valid ID’s. To order your tickets call the box office at 773-935-6875 or visit www.eclipsetheatre.com

The Athenaeum is located at 2936 N. Southport ( at Lincoln Avenue) with street parking avaialable and there are some restauarnts in walking distance. The studio is one of the more comfortable of the venues in the building and there is an elevator.

to see other views, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review-round-up and click on “Ah,Wilderness”

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