The Corner


Ah, Wilderness! Surrounds You With Love on Bleecker Street

Ah, Wilderness!

It’s very cold, I have a cold, and so much of our politics has doubled down on the coldness of death as a solution to difficult situations we should be rising to the challenge of with radical generosity. For these and other reasons, the opening weekend of Ah, Wilderness! — a Eugene O’Neill comedy presented by the Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and Storm Theatre Company — last Friday and Saturday at The Sheen Center in lower Manhattan  couldn’t have been more welcome.

I told Peter Dobbins, the director, as I walked out: I needed that.

I laughed and I cried – all the things you hope to do when setting out to a theater. It’s about love and family and dreams, both fulfilled and filled with heartache, as it is with life. It’s an antidote for the vortex of the newscycle, polar or political. It’s healthy and delightful.

Terry Teachout saw the production, too, last weekend, and in his review of it in the Wall Street Journal, captures some of its gift:

The best thing about “Ah, Wilderness!” is the way in which it mixes sweetness with sorrow. It stands to reason that O’Neill, who subtitled the play “A Comedy of Recollection in Three Acts,” would have been inclined to mix these two strong flavors. “Ah, Wilderness!” is the theatrical equivalent of a reverse image of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the tragedy in which he dwelled at length on the horrific shortcomings of his real-life family. In “Ah, Wilderness!” he chose instead to evoke the imagined shades of the Millers, the family he would have preferred, headed by Nat (Mr. Trammell), the tolerant, supportive father, and Essie (Lynn Laurence), the kindly mother. In addition, he portrayed himself when young as Richard (Peter Calvin Atkinson), a lovesick innocent who reads George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde on the sly but remains a virgin. Indeed, poor Richard is so idealistic that he actually contrives in the second act to visit a whorehouse without effect, coming home drunk but unspotted.

That’s the sweet part. The sorrow comes in the form of Sid (Ted McGuinness), Essie’s brother, who has kept Lily (Ms. Petrofes, who is touchingly melancholy), Nat’s sister and Sid’s longtime girlfriend, on the string for 16 years. It’s not that Sid isn’t willing to tie the knot, but Lily knows better: He’s a ne’er-do-well alcoholic who can’t hold down a job, and she won’t marry him unless he goes on the wagon. Their relationship casts a shadow on the other Millers, reminding us of the dark-brown threads of disappointment that run through even the happiest of small-town families.


“Ah, Wilderness!” profits from unhurried presentation, especially in a light-textured production like this one. It helps that Mr. Trammell is so good: His Nat is the father we all wish we’d had, decent and patient, and he makes us believe that such men exist, or at least did in 1906, the year when “Ah, Wilderness!” takes place.

O’Neill’s only mature full-length comedy is overdue for a handsome Broadway revival. In its absence, though, this production makes a convincing case for its old-fashioned virtues. Even if—perhaps especially if—your own family was more like the desperately unhappy Tyrones of “Long Day’s Journey” than the mostly contented Millers, I suspect you’ll be charmed by “Ah, Wilderness!” Like “Our Town,” it takes an essentially hopeful view of American family life, and successfully persuades all but the most cynical viewers that it’s more than merely pretty to think so.

Read the whole review here.

Ticket information is here.

There is a pure goodness about so much of this production of the kind that we need to immerse ourselves in more. It’s refreshing and renewing. And on the part of the audience it doesn’t take a lot of work. It doesn’t add stress. It doesn’t make you angry. I’ll sure take that over things we typically subject ourselves to throughout our days.

We need art. Great art – like Elizabeth Lev talked about here. Comedic art like this. We need to support and encourage art. Drink it in where you can. Do yourself a favor and see this run of Ah, Wilderness!, if you can.



Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.


Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More