Ah, Wilderness! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Ah, Wilderness!

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Ah, Wilderness!, Griffin Theatre Company. Eugene O'Neill might have imagined a darker than actual youth in Long Day's Journey Into Night, but in this, his only comedy, he doles out nostalgia for a happy childhood he never knew, glimpsed on an eventful Independence Day in 1906. O'Neill's Connecticut clan consists of a good-tempered father, a fussbudget mother, an irascible alcoholic uncle, some bratty kids, and Richard (the author's surrogate), a misunderstood literary lad awkwardly in love with Muriel, the girl next door.

The seeds of countless 50s sitcoms must have been planted by this 1933 play, but its sweetness isn't saccharine in Richard Barletta's staging, graced by an ensemble who really seem to have spent years accommodating one another. Jason Sawyer balances Richard's untested idealism against his dangerous curiosity and an impetuousness patiently checked by Matthew Lon Walker as the epigrammatic father and Jordyn Frelk as Richard's cautious sweetheart. And though there's seldom a false note in Griffin's revival, it achieves even greater authenticity with Larry Wiley as the family drunk (whom everyone "enables") and, most poignantly, Melissa Culverwell as his oft tested lady love.

In a cunning comic turn, Teri Marinkovich-McCaskill bubbles over as Belle, a tart-tongued, mercenary floozy: her very unromantic tryst with Richard--probably reflecting O'Neill's own youthful carousing, softened here by memory--is a vaudeville gem of comedy and melodrama.

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