AH, WILDERNESS!, dir. Daniel Sullivan. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle, WA, Dec. 31, 1980 - Jan. 25, 1981: A REVIEW.
This was the Seattle Rep's second production of Ah, Wilderness!, and I am pleased to report that the production, the Rep's best work of the season, played to sold-out houses throughout its run. The cast consisted of professional actors from throughout the country, including Thomas Hill as Sid Davis, Anne Gerety as Essie Miller, Biff McGuire as Nat Miller, Constance Dix as Lily Miller, L. Michael Craig as Richard, Jeffrey L. Prather as Arthur, Susan Greenhill as Muriel, and Cheri Sorensen as Belle.
It is interesting to note that Thomas Hill, who directed the Seattle Rep's first production of Ah, Wilderness! 17 years ago, returned to Seattle to play the role of Sid. Throughout his career Mr. Hill, a member of the Seattle Rep's original company, has appeared in, or directed, virtually all of O'Neill's plays.
Hill's wife, Anne Gerety, also returned to Seattle to play the role of Essie. She too was a member of the Seattle Rep's original company, and had played Essie under the direction of her husband. Ms. Gerety has appeared in many O'Neill plays, including productions at the Provincetown Playhouse.
Biff McGuire, Anne Gerety, Constance Dix, and Thomas Hill gave the best performances in the show as Nat, Essie, Lily, and Sid. The most effective scene in the play occurred in Act 2, when Nat and Sid return from the picnic to have dinner with the family. McGuire's portrayal of the reminiscent Nat, followed by Hill's rendition of Sid's blue-fish and lobster antics, and culminating in Sid's singing of "Sweet Bye and Bye," received uproarious laughter and rousing applause. Ms. Gerety gave a fine performance as Essie, especially conveying her contradictory moods--wanting to punish Richard for his drunken revels, and yet worrying and fretting over him in spite of herself. Ms. Dix was most sympathetic as the spinster-teacher, and her dilemma over Sid was quite touching and believable. (Mr. Hill and Ms. Dix appear together in the photo on the right.)
Jeffrey L. Prather and Karen Kay Cody gave amusing and creditable performances as Arthur and Mildred, especially during the singing scene in Act 3, scene 2. Cheri Sorenson, of Tacoma, was intriguing and even sympathetic as Belle. Her astonishment at Richard's behavior in the bar was quite understandable. Belle's flaming red hair, provocative costume, and brazen manners provided an enormous contrast to Susan Greehill's angelic portrayal of Richard's true love, Muriel.
The only weakness in this otherwise excellent production was L. Michael Craig's performance as Richard. Craig's puerile characterization, and the fact that the director had him play everything for a laugh, greatly diminished the underlying sincerity that it is essential for an audience to detect in Richard. (Mr. Craig and Ms. Sorenson are seen in the photo on the left.)
The elaborate unit set, designed by Robert Dahlstrom, consisted of tall, transparent wall panels set in realistic wood moldings. Tree branches, fireworks, wallpaper, a waterfront, and moonlight were projected onto these panels. This versatile set was easily transformed from the Miller sitting room into the dining room, bar, wharf, etc., by changes in the projections and quick shifting of furniture, stairways, doors, and lighting fixtures. In unusual divergence from O'Neill's instructions, the director set the final scene (Act 4, scene 3) in the bedroom of Nat and Essie, rather than in the sitting room. The director felt that, as in his own childhood, many important conversations between child and parents took place in the latter's bedroom. While this did provide a more intimate atmosphere, I felt it was rather awkward and should have been played in the sitting room.
The costumes, designed by Kurt Wilhelm, were authentic and attractive. The outfits worn by Essie, Lily, and Sid for their drive in the Buick were fantastic.
In spite of my disappointment with the role of Richard, I feel this production was very well done. Excellent performances by Nat, Essie, Sid and Lily, plus very good performances in the supporting roles, made for a memorable production. I am pleased that the Seattle Repertory Theatre decided to revive Ah, Wilderness!, and hope that other regional theatres continue this renaissance of interest in O'Neill.
--Deborah Kellar Pattin
NEWS FLASH! Philip Anglim will play Michael Cape in the Jose Quintero-directed production of Welded that is mentioned in item 2 of the News, Notes and Queries section. The production will close on July 5. For information, call 212-280-3408.
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