AH, WILDERNESS! Kicks Off the O'Neill Festival at Arena Stage


Ah, Wilderness!, Eugene O'Neill's joyous and truthful depiction of American family life at the turn of the 20th century, will kick off the two-month citywide Eugene O'Neill Festival at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. From a playwright better known for his darker stories comes the brilliant Ah, Wilderness!, O'Neill's singular comedy that represents a fantasy of what his own childhood might have been. Helen Hayes Award winner and former Arena Stage Associate Artistic Director Kyle Donnelly returns to direct her 21st show at Arena Stage, which features an almost entirely local cast led by Rick Foucheux, Nancy Robinette and June Schreiner. Ah, Wilderness! runs March 9-April 8, 2012 in the Fichandler Stage.  

"It's the story of Ah, Wilderness! that really strikes me. Eugene O'Neill was a flat-out wonderful storyteller," says Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith. "It's a moving play about adolescence, romance and transformation in a middle-class American family. In Donnelly's skilled hands, this masterwork will strike a chord with our audiences."

Return to an idyllic age of America in Eugene O'Neill's unabashedly romantic and sweetly funny Ah, Wilderness! As the Connecticut-based Miller clan plans their traditional Fourth of July festivities, their dreamy-eyed middle child, Richard, is wrestling with cultural conventions, political uncertainty, the power of literature and the exquisite pain of love. The memories of family life were never so delicately portrayed as in O'Neill's only comedy. 

"Eugene O'Neill was truly our first great American playwright, and I am thrilled to spend time in his world back in the Fichandler Stage-a unique theater space that I'm obsessed with," says Donnelly. "Ah, Wilderness! is a fantasy, a recollection of what never happened, but of course, we also see a glimmer of darker undercurrents. So we have the privilege of experiencing this depth of reality while also enjoying the humor and fantasy of the play."

Ah, Wilderness! is produced as part of the Eugene O'Neill Festival, a two-month citywide examination of the life and work of American playwright Eugene O'Neill. Featuring partnerships with education and arts organizations in the area, the festival runs March 9-May 6, 2012 and features three full-length productions and more than 20 readings, workshops, radio plays, lectures, panels, presentations and art exhibits. For a complete festival schedule, visit arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/productions/eugene-oneill-festival/index.shtml

As previously announced, Helen Hayes Award winners Rick Foucheux and Nancy Robinette lead the cast as Nat and Essie Miller. They are joined by Jonathan Lincoln Fried as Sid Davis, Kimberly Schraf as Lily Miller, Leo Erickson as David McComber/Salesman and June Schreiner as Muriel McComber. Portraying the Miller siblings are Davis Chandler Hasty as Arthur, William Patrick Riley as Richard, Talisa Friedman as Mildred and 10-year-old Thomas Langston as Tommy, understudied by his brother T.J. Langston. Rounding out the cast are James Flanagan as Wint Selby/Bartender, Allison Leigh Corke as Norah and Pearl Rhein as Belle. This nearly entirely local company boasts 11 actors from the D.C. area.

After working with Donnelly most recently on South Coast Repertory's Pride and Prejudice, Set Designer Kate Edmunds and Composer Michael Roth join the design team for Ah, Wilderness! Also reuniting with Donnelly are Costume Designer Nan Cibula-Jenkins (Broadway's Speed-the-Plow) and Lighting Designer Russell Champa (Broadway's In the Next Room, or the vibrator play), joined by Hair and Makeup Designer/Wig Fabricator Christal Schanes (Broadway's Coram Boy). The creative team also includes Arena Casting Director Daniel Pruksarnukul, Dramaturg Aaron Malkin, Stage Manager Jenna Henderson and Assistant Stage Manager Christi B. Spann.

Eugene O'Neill (Playwright, 1888-1953) began writing when melodrama dominated American theater. Influenced by Strindberg and Ibsen, O'Neill vowed to strip theater of sentimentality. He won Pulitzers for Beyond the Horizon, Anna Christie, and Strange Interlude and received further acclaim for The Emperor Jones, The Hairy Ape, Desire Under the Elms, The Great God Brown and Mourning Becomes Electra. In 1936, he won the Nobel Prize, the only American playwright so honored. The autobiographical The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey into Night and A Moon for the Misbegotten tower over his other works and portray with "faithful realism" the haunting figures of his family. He won a fourth Pulitzer, posthumously, in 1956 for Long Day's Journey into Night. In a career of more than three decades, O'Neill experimented with dramatic techniques, tackled controversial issues and changed American theater forever.

Kyle Donnelly (Director) was associate artistic director at Arena Stage (1992-98) and directed Dancing at Lughnasa (Hayes Award, Best Production), Polk County (Hayes Award, Best Musical) and numerous other productions. She directed the American premiere of Brian Friel's Give Me Your Answer, Do! Off-Broadway and has worked with many regional theaters, including Old Globe (Orson's Shadow), Seattle Rep (The Three Musketeers, Constant Wife), Goodman (The Rover), Steppenwolf (Molly Sweeney), Huntington (Ah, Wilderness!, Aristocrats), ACT (Constant Wife), Studio (Baltimore Waltz) and Alliance (To Kill a Mockingbird). She has won Helen Hayes and Joseph Jefferson awards and the Arthur and Molli Wagner Endowed Chair in Acting at UC San Diego, where she heads the M.F.A. Program in Acting.

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