Also see Susan's review of 1776
By writing Ah, Wilderness!, O'Neill had a chance to imagine the idyllic childhood he never had, with a teenage protagonist who worries only about going to college and his romance with the girl next door. (He revealed the true story of his youthwhich included alcoholism, drug addiction, and a life-threatening case of tuberculosisin Long Day's Journey into Night, which will be the second mainstage production of Arena's Eugene O'Neill Festival.)
While young Richard Miller (William Patrick Riley) is the nominal hero of the play, the underpinnings come from Richard's parents, Nat and Essie Miller (Rick Foucheux, Nancy Robinette). Long married, a companionable couple with shared goals and a large family, they stand behind their children even when things aren't perfect. The time is the Fourth of July, 1906, when Richard could demonstrate rebellion against middle-class values by reading such incendiary writers as George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Henrik Ibsen.
Foucheux and Robinette have both received numerous Helen Hayes Awards, and here they work together like a ballroom dance team. Kimberly Schraf gives a performance at their level as Nat's flinty sister Lily, but Jonathan Lincoln Fried's performance as hard-drinking Sid Davis is overly delicate where it should have some heft. Riley succeeds in depicting the insecurities, exposed nerve endings, and in-over-his-head bravado of a teenage boywhich is harder to do than one might think without becoming either precious or annoying.
June Schreiner, the high school senior who glittered as Ado Annie in Arena's production of Oklahoma!, gives another lovely, spirited performance as Richard's girlfriend, Muriel. Leo Erickson (with a thick, bushy beard) has an amusing scene as Muriel's puritanical father.
Nan Cibula-Jenkins has designed luscious period costumes and Russell Champa has created a nifty starlight effect as part of his lighting design.