Menu Bar


Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. X, No. 2
Summer-Fall, 1986



4. AH, WILDERNESS!. directed by David Devries. Presented by the Alliance Theatre School of Atlanta at the Fifth Annual Theatre Festival, Madison-Morgan Cultural Center, Madison, Georgia, August 8-10, 1986. Stage design by Bill Harrison, lighting and sound design by David Brewer, costume design by Yvonne K. Lee.

As a contribution to the theme "Celebrating American Humor," O'Neill's work was performed three times during a festival underwritten by state and federal endowments as well as commercial sponsors and inaugurated by the governor. The site was a rural town of 3,500 inhabitants known for its Victorian architecture and fine antebellum homes spared by Sherman's decision to skirt the town on his march to the coast.

A massive (Romanesque Revival) two story brick building erected in 1895 and fully restored since the time it served as one of the first graded schools in the South contains the Cultural Center including art galleries, a museum, and the theatre. An audience of four hundred enjoys excellent acoustics under the original chandelier ("Bailey's Improved Reflector") in an area with original heart pine floors and wainscoting on walls, balcony. and ceiling in natural finish.

The players were members of the Theatre School of the Alliance Theatre Company, an institution which bills itself as the leading non-profit resident theatre in the Southeast. The School selects twenty university-trained actors for the Actor Intern Program to receive professional guidance for one or two years. A member of the faculty of the school directed interns in Ah, Wilderness! It might be expected a priori that the single greatest drawback would be the age of the members of the troupe--most in their mid-twenties. This fact reflected upon the depth of their acting experience as well as the ability to appear a generation older than they were. Essie and Nat (Anne Dudenhofer and Allen O'Reilly) overcame these handicaps, even though the father sometimes lacked conviction when angry (with McComber) or attempting to be firm (with Richard). Lily and Sid (Wendy Bennett and Neil Williams) simply did not look their parts, and Williams' attempt to bear himself in a slow, portly fashion created a hunchback. Mildred (Laura Tietjen) was bouncy, pretty, eye arresting--not exactly what O'Neill had in mind.

The audience, of course, saw the work with the eyes of today. Sexism and the double standard fairly leapt from Nat's lines when he admonished Richard for sending "filthy" poems to a decent young girl unable to cope with such things as we males can. Contemporary attitudes support more closely those prevalent during the days of Teddy Roosevelt than O'Neill might have ever expected; the spectator sides with Muriel in her assertion that only a wicked (or stupid) woman (or man) smokes as does Belle. Nat's trepidation before the discussion/confrontation with Dick concerning contraception was archaic and meaningless. And Richard was so perfectly adolescent and fresh faced in his innocence that he represented an imagined ideal without resemblance to anything reflected among young people today.

Particular moments and scenes were especially good--even though they were sometimes not interpreted in a way entirely consistent with the text. Indeed, perhaps for this very reason was McComber so successfully amusing. Clothed in black with a high collar causing him to resemble a clergyman, he constituted a parody of small town morality and outraged priggishness--a far cry from that "old buzzard," "a thin dried-up little man with a head too large for his body perched on a scrawny neck." The characterization of Wint Selby was excellent; and one was struck by the fact that the dialogue, so wrong at this moment ("these dead Janes around here"), came to life most effectively immediately thereafter in the scene at dinner with bluefish and Sid's drunkenness. His confession after the sobering afternoon nap bore a penetrating touch of O'Neill's experience and art. The barroom scene with Belle was most amusing and became even more so as the salesman ingratiated himself into the presence of the two. The conclusion of the work, however, left something to be desired through its failure to mark the distance between generations. The audience was unable to recognize that Richard was trying to imagine his parents as lovers while he looked at them during this moonlit night; lost was a feeling for strangeness, disgust, and then finally "a smile of shy understanding and sympathy" as they reflected themselves in his face.

The play was a great success. All performances were sold out, including the Saturday matinee, and advance ticket sales for the festival throughout the state amounted to three thousand, a figure nearly equal to the population of Madison, Georgia.

--Ward B. Lewis



Copyright 1999-2007