Also see Susan's review of Merrily We Roll Along
O'Neill is renowned for his tragedies of American life; his autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night depicts the anger and despair he experienced while living as a young man with his parents and older brother. In contrast, Ah, Wilderness! takes its inspiration from the more traditional home life of a family he knew. But, along with the high spirits and charming sentiment, the play has a visible undercurrent of melancholy and regret, and the drunkards and prostitutes of O'Neill's bleaker works play important roles here.
Evan Crump does an admirable job in the central role of Richard Miller, son of a small-town newspaper editor (Kim-Scott Miller) and his loving, rather doting wife (Rebecca Herron). On July 4, 1906, as Richard prepares to enter Yale in the fall, he is experiencing life vicariously through the "disgraceful" writings of such provocateurs as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, and discovering the sensuality of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayýám. However, while Richard tries to shock his elders with his loud calls for socialism and atheism, he's still innocent enough that he has never even kissed his girlfriend, Muriel McComber (Kari Ginsburg).
Over the course of two days, after Muriel's father (Christopher Tully) forces her to stop seeing Richard because of his unwholesome tastes in literature, the young man gets a lesson in life that involves drinking in a seedy hotel and wrestling with a redheaded hooker (Carolyn Myers). Richard ultimately gains some wisdom from his experiences and learns from the example of his uncle, Sid Davis (John Collins), a hard-drinking sport who can't keep a job.
One problem with the script for a modern audience is that O'Neill tends to overwrite, extending scenes longer than they need to be. Another is his extensive use of period slang (such as "hick burg" for small town and "beer-squirter" for bartender), which may distance the audience rather than enhancing the scene.
Andrew Barry's scenic design packs a lot of detail into a relatively small space, showing several rooms of the Miller home and both front and back doors.
American Century Theater