Ah! Into the O'Neill Wilderness

A first kiss, a first drink, a first fight, a Fourth of July weekend: On the precipice of the new century, 17-year-old Richard Miller struggles with his desire to experience the world. In the course of a day, the shy, romantic young man journeys from boyhood innocence to adult understanding, and awakens to the pleasures and perils of his new world.
Set on the coast of New England in the summer of 1906 and written in just five weeks, American playwright Eugene O'Neill's witty drama, Ah, Wilderness!, deals, like his better known tragedies, with family.
Considered his only true comedy, this is the first of O'Neill's later plays with autobiographical elements. Exposed to theater early in his life by his father, James O'Neill,  who was a famous actor, the younger O’Neill flourished as a writer in his later years after being confined to a sanatorium for tuberculosis, where he began his playwriting career.
Inspired by Strindburg and Ibsen, O’Neill became one of the great American dramatists, winning four Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize for literature. "O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!, is a reflective ‘dramedy’ with themes that still resonate in modern America," says Ronda Hewitt, general manager for Live Arts.
The play's artistic director, William Rough, agrees: “I love this glimpse of the pure American ideals of freedom, tolerance, democracy, and the free exchange of fresh ideas, as celebrated on the Fourth of July. And I treasure those parts of that American identity that survive with us today.”
O’Neill himself describes his play, which premiered in 1933 and is often thought of as a light-hearted complement to the much darker autobiographical Long Day's Journey Into Night, as “a sort of wishing out loud. It is the way I would like my childhood to have been.” A nostalgic slice of Americana, Ah, Wilderness! may be just the sort of entertainment to fit the New Year's bill.

Ah, Wilderness! opens officially Friday, January 17, followed by a champagne reception. Other performance dates are Saturday, January 18, January 22-26, January 29-February 2, and February 4-8. All Wednesday performances are “pay what you can” nights and start at 8pm. The only Tuesday show is on February 4, and all regular Thursday shows are “early bird” performances and begin at 7:30pm. Friday and Saturday performances start at 8pm, and the two Sunday matinees begin at 2pm. Live Arts Main Stage, 609 E. Market St. $11-14. 977-4177, ext. 108 or livearts.org.