Review: Ah, Wilderness! (Goodman Theatre)

| July 2, 2017

Niall Cunningham and Ayssette Muñoz star as Richard and Muriel in Ah Wilderness, Goodman Theatre           

Ah, Wilderness!

Written by Eugene O’Neill   
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru July 23  |  tix: $20-$75  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Ideal summertime show celebrates love and family


Randall Newsome, Niall Cunningham, Larry Bates, Rochelle Therrien, Kate Fry, Matthew Abraham, Ora Jones

Goodman Theatre presents
Ah, Wilderness!

Review by Catey Sullivan

Enter the world of most Eugene O’Neill plays and you’ll find yourself in a world of hurt. Drug addiction, infanticide, incest and shattered lives litter the landscape. O’Neill’s New England is a place where doomed souls are isolated in their own private hells, surrounded by fog both literal and metaphorical. The exception that proves the rule is Ah, Wilderness!, O’Neill’s sole comedy. Set on the 4th of July 1906, Ah, Wilderness! is about a loving family celebrating the holiday in a Connecticut beachside town that’s all sunshine and light.

Niall Cunningham and Amanda Drinkall star as Richard Miller and Belle in Ah WildernessIn idyllic Waterbury, the clouds are puffy, cumulus marshmallows rather than smothering harbingers of doom. Within the Miller family, there is laughter and connection. Yes, there’s a dipsomaniac on the scene, but he’s surrounded by friends. And when he gets drunk, he gets ridiculously happy. In all, Ah, Wilderness! is as lighthearted as Long Days Journey is devastating. In the Goodman Theatre’s production of this rarely-staged play, director Steve Scott captures both the comedy and the full-hearted emotion that propel the play. It’s an ideal summertime show, a celebration of vacation, love, family and big lobster dinners.

The aspects of love O’Neill explores in Ah, Wilderness! range from the agonies and ecstasies of first teenage passion to the less extravagantly expressed – but no less intense – love between a long-married husband and wife. In the Miller family, affection is generously spread. So when 16-year-old Richard Miller (Niall Cunningham) falls in love for the first time – both with the girl down the street and with the razor-edged pessimism of Swinburne, Wilde and Ibsen – his family is there to provide a safety net.

Richard is at that instantly recognizable stage of adolescence when young men mistake fatalism and cynicism for wisdom, and scorn as shallow as anyone who finds joy in life. He’s a die-hard emo, long before the word existed. If you’ve ever known (or been) a teenager, Cunningham’s marvelous performance will leave you both laughing and perhaps tearing up in recognition. Richard’s raging hormones and his fierce intellect whipsaw him between jubilation and despair. Cunningham makes the histrionics absolutely authentic.

Randall Newsome and Ricardo Gutierrez star as Nat and David in Ah Wilderness Will Allan and Niall Cunningham star as Wint and Richard in Ah WildernessRandall Newsome, Matthew Abraham and Ora Jones star in Ah Wilderness, Goodman Travis A. Knight stars as Arthur Miller in Ah Wilderness, Goodman TheatreNiall Cunningham, Joe Dempsey, Amanda Drinkall and Bret Tuomi star in Ah Wilderness

Having embraced despondency like a martyr donning a hairshirt, Richard is certain that life is but a wretched, Sisyphean nightmare – and that anyone who thinks otherwise is an ignorant fool. He’s 16-going-on both 50 and eight, a hyper-articulate young man with a streak of stubborn truculence that echoes a toddler stamping his feet when he thinks the adults are being unreasonable.

The supporting cast is filled with marvelous character turns, many of them delivered with a single scene. Amanda Drinkall’s good-time girl Belle is a hoot. Ricardo Gutierrez’s turn as the affronted father of Richard’s beloved is memorable and absolutely hilarious, right down to the way Gutierrez aggressively tips his jaunty summer hat.

As a Yale undergrad intent on having a wild night on the town, Will Allan embodies the spirit of undergrad bro-dom as Wint Selby. And as the Miller’s cheeky maid, Bri Sudia finds comic gold in the most mundane household tasks.

 Niall Cunningham and Ayssette Muñoz star as Richard and Muriel in Ah Wilderness, Goodman Ora Jones and Kate Fry star as Essie and Lily Miller in Ah Wilderness, Goodman

The Miller family is a fine example of ensemble acting at its best. Kate Fry makes the unlucky-in-love Aunt Lily a figure both pitiable and strong as steel. And as Richard’s parents Nat and Essie, Randall Newsome and Ora Jones are a couple both buttoned up in their respectability and frisky enough to make their children blush. It wouldn’t be an O’Neill play without an alcoholic onstage, and that task falls to Larry Bates. As dipsomaniac family friend Sid Davis, Bates manages to bring the comic thunder as a rollicking drunk and the chronic sorrow that follows the morning after.

Set designer Todd Rosenthal’s light-filled beach house evokes the sunny blues of the Atlantic in July, and the gauzy airiness of a perfect summer day when all the windows are open and the very concept of winter seems impossible.

The emotional swerves in Richard’s heart over the precocious Muriel (Ayssette Muñoz) provide much of the comedy in Ah, Wilderness!. The teen’s illuminating escapades over the Fourth of July give the play depth and optimism. Rail against the dying of the light all you like. You still won’t be able to escape the lighthouse beam of undeniable love that permeates this heartwarming O’Neill classic.

Rating: ★★★★

Ah, Wilderness! continues through July 23rd at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays 2pm & 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2pm & 8pm, Sundays 2pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $20-$75 (students day-of-performance: $10), and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes 15-minute intermission)

Randall Newsome, Bri Sudia, Niall Cunningham, Larry Bates, Rochelle Therrien, Matthew Abraham, Ora Jones, Kate Fry

Photos by Liz Lauren




Niall Cunningham (Richard Miller), Ayssette Muñoz (Muriel), Randall Newsome (Nat Miller), Ora Jones (Essie Miller), Kate Fry (Lily Miller), Travis Knight (Arthur Miller). Rochelle Therrien (Mildred Miller), Matthew Abraham (Tommy Miller), Ricardo Gutierrez (David McComber), Will Allan (Wint Selby), Larry Bates (Sid Davis), Amanda Drinkall (Belle), Bri Sudia (Norah), Joe Dempsey (bartender), Bret Tuomi (salesman), Matt Browning (u/s Arthur Miller), Lindsey Kite (u/s Belle, Norah), Angela Morris (u/s Mildred Miller, Muriel McComber), Casey Morris (u/s Richard Miller), Tania Richard (u/s Essie Miller), Davu Smith (u/s Tommy Miller).

behind the scenes

Steve Scott (director), Todd Rosenthal (set design), Amy Clark (costume design), Aaron Spivey (lighting design), Richard Woodbury (sound design, original music), Neena Arndt (dramaturg), Alden Vasquez (production stage manger), Jonathan Nook (stage manager), Christine Adair (dialect coach), James Fleming (assistant director), Daniel Friedman (assistant lighting design), Adrienne Bader (young performer supervisor), Adam Belcuore, Erica Sartini-Combs (casting), Liz Lauren (photos)

Larry Bates and Randall Newsome star as Sid and Nat in Ah Wilderness, GoodmanNiall Cunningham and Ayssette Muñoz star as Richard and Muriel in Ah Wilderness, Goodman Theatre


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Eugene O'Neill, Goodman Theatre, Video, YouTube

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