AH!, WILDERNESS! IS WARM AND FULL OF FIRST LOVE
AND THE AMERICAN SPIRIT
Eugene O Neill, is not an American playwright known for comedies, his plays are based on his not so fun family life (Long day's Journey), but in AH WILDERNESS we meet a family who is not that bad. This was O'Neill's only comedy written at the gate of the great depression. Douglas Morrison Theatre’s current production of WILDERNESS is a bit awkward but after a 83 years it still hits home. This classic coming of age story, based on O'Neill's memories of his teen years is full of nostalgia, rebellion and a family as current on topics as in any George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart story. Many of the great authors and playwrights are quoted by Richard Miller, the young romantic rebel who quotes from the likes of Fitzgerald Oscar Wilde, Shaw and Ibsen. Directed by Sharon Robinson, she brought a local cast to the DMT stage now running through March 3rd. Robinson says “I’ve tried to keep the struggle authentic but clock the action in the sweetness O’Neill intended.”
Originally staged in 1933 with George M. Cohan playing Mr Miller, and the national tour completely sold out with Will Rogers in the role. Local actor Joe Waters plays the father Mr Nat Miller and he does his best in the role. Richard Miller, the young teen the main character in the story is set around, is played by Darrien Cabreana who captures this almost 17 year old turn of the century youth filled with cynicism and love. The story opens in 1906, 4th of July and the family readies for the annual picnic and fireworks. The Miller family is part of small town Connecticut; Nat Miller owns the local newspaper and is well respected. His wife Essie (Deibre Brodeur Coen ) heads their middle class household that includes four children, and the spinster sister Lily (Cynthia Lagodzinski) and the sweet, but loveable drunk, Sid played by Jim Woodbury.
Richard (Cabreana) is the subtext of O'Neill himself and is the center of attention. This middle class white family is not cast colorblind and would have brought this production wider range of local talent. All the cast is believable in this company and the laughs in AH WILDERNESS are from the heart. Walters, Lagodzinski, Coen and Cabreana make this turn of century two and half hour sitcom easy to watch. We are so tuned in to expect a tragedy or doom to wave into the story, but on this July 4th - it is all reasonably pleasant as a slice of apple pie. An original romcom, a highlight in the cast was one of the less featured actors the terrific Marshall Scott as Wint Selby a friend of Arthur.
The Connecticut beach house misses that distant sea feel in Teddy Hulsker’s sound design. The stylized set designed by Liliana Duque Pineiro; she uses a pastel wallpaper and floating windows and see through walls to discover this family. The furniture is fitting and the complete dinner table created by props masters Mary Jo Price, Larry Jeane and Rachel Rynazewski made you want to join their dinner table. The warm lighting by Allen Willner, is sunny and always bright in the Millers’ home and later the moon is romantic for the sweet end of the story. The period costumes summer fit, designed by Christine U’Ren are full of vibrant nostalgia. Stage manager Christian Tanton kept the busy 15 member cast moving on and off the full house set with ease.
The youngest cast member, little Tommy, played by Cabreana’s real life brother Toren Cabreana kept his cuteness and giggles in perfect step (MIckey Rooney played this role in the film version). His sister Mildred is well performed by Liva Langer who was on course not to be upstaged by her middle brother Richard. Jesse Arnett is miscast as the pompous Yalie older brother Arthur. Arnett appeared younger than his 17 yo brother Richard and a bit forced in the role but later as the bartender he is spot on. Both brothers and sister sing in the second act and it is one of the few highlights of the production. Richard’s fascination with socialism and his love for his sweet heart Muriel, played well by Molly Brennan. The bar scene when the love hurt Richard tangles with a smart whore named Belle, played by Amanda Clemmons, who tempts the teen’s virginity in a very adorable scene.
The iconic moon on the lake scene with two teens in love is touching and mixes that bit of angst with Muriel and Richard. Robison’s direction with “first love” is soft and needed a stronger cast to bring the sweet moments more charm to this story. O ‘Neill’s work is a theatrical classic full of humor and passion for the American dream. Next up at DMT is BROADWAY AT THE MOVIES Spring Concert that opens March 29th. - But in the meantime catch closing weekend of this American Classic.
DMT Theater Presents
Directed by Sharon Robinson
Only through March 3
Two and half hours with One intermission
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22311 N 3rd St, Hayward, California 94546
Tickets are $15-. 29.00
Call 415-749-2228 or visit
All photos by Christopher Scott
Jesse Arnett, Molly Brennan, Darrien Cabreana, Toren Cabreana, Amanda Clemmons, Deidre Brodeur Coen, Sarah LaDue, Cynthia Lagodzinski ,Liva Langer, Marshall Scott, Kyle Smith, Joe Walters, Jim Woodbury
Director - Sharon Robinson
Scenic Designer - Liliana Duque-Piñeiro
Lighting Designer - Allen Willner
Costume Designer - Christine U'Ren
Sound Designer - Teddy Hulsker
Stage Manager - Christian Tanton