Eugene O'Neill is not known for his comedic work, but rather for several grand plays (Mourning Becomes Electra and Desire Under the Elms) mired in the psychological morass of family life. Ah, Wilderness! is a departure—a fond family satire that is, at its core, stable and steady and therefore a safe haven for a teenage boy's whims and fancies. Remarkably little happens—a misunderstanding here, a drunk soliloquy there—but that is precisely the point.
Taproot Theater, ends February 27
The story pivots around 16-year-old Dick Miller (Robert Quinlan), who is brimming with lust for life and the heady words of Shaw, Wilde, and Swinburne. When he receives a letter from his beloved Muriel McComber (Laurie Records) informing him that their romance must end, Dick flies into an all-too-typical fit of adolescent indignation, which puts to the test the good natures of his newspaper-publisher father (Kevin Brady) and his doting mother (Kim Norris). Given that there is little real action, the play is primarily driven by O'Neill's crafty dialogue—made more colorful both by a sprinkling of contemporary idioms, and spirited, authentic performances. Quinlan is a natural as the tempestuous Dick Miller, as though he too has been duped by his girl and felt the tidal wave of rebellion in his heart. Nolan Palmer, a Taproot regular, steals the show as the old family friend Sid Davis. I've seen this play before and then was more entertained by the nodding heads of the dozers in front of me than the stuffy actors onstage. But there's no chance of boredom at this show—it exudes a vitality and timelessness made all the more palpable by the intimacy of the theater.