TWS presents the lighter side of O’Neill
Thom Serafin, Cheryl McKay and Ryan Byrne in "Ah, Wilderness!" at the Theatre of Western Springs.
Theatre of Western Springs, 4384 Hampton Ave., Western Springs
May 31-June 10. Performances: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays-Saturdays, May 31, June 1-2, 7-9; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 3 and 10; 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 3; and 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 9
(708) 246-3380 or http://www.theatrewesternsprings.com
Updated: May 30, 2012 3:51PM
Eugene O’Neill’s highly autobiographical “Ah, Wilderness!” and the playwright’s only comedy, will wind up the 83rd season for the Theatre of Western Springs. It will run from May 31-June 10.
The play’s coming-of-age theme about change, growth and acceptance involves the struggle between desires and limitations, said Richard Corely, a Wisconsin transplant who makes his local directorial debut at the nonprofit company.
“I think the play will resonate with a broad audience, based on relationships it explores between parents and children and children and parents,” said Corely, a long-time O’Neill fan. Most recently artistic director of Madison Repertory Theatre, he previously directed O’Neill’s “Anna Christie,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” and “Desire Under the Elms.”
Set in 1906 in Connecticut, “Ah, Wilderness!” follows the Millers, a middle-class American family celebrating the Fourth of July. Corely said the play’s title comes from “The Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam, adding: “It has to do with the joy of experiencing the moment of living in the face of life’s shortness.”
Praising the play’s characters and language, Corely calls it “a beautiful piece of American nostalgia, and I mean that in a very positive way. It’s not about sentimentality but a tough and at times funny play — one with a warm sense of time when things weren’t necessarily simpler but certainly more innocent.”
The 2-hour, 40-minute production, to be presented on the company’s 410-seat mainstage, should bring all this out in its four acts with four different sets.
Corely’s 15-member cast includes adult actors as well as four young performers, and he said they all work well together. “The one person I would single out is 14-year-old Ryan Byrne of Western Springs, who appears in virtually every scene and plays a character based on the young O’Neill.”
“It’s a large role, usually played by a much older actor playing a younger version of himself. In this case, Ryan plays a slightly older version of himself,” the director said. “He pulls it off with great aplomb and maturity.”
The play’s humor is about believable people relating to each other in ways one might describe as “the human comedy.”
As an example, Corely cites the character of Uncle Sid (performed by Ed Wavak of Hinsdale), who is based on O’Neill’s own brother, an alcoholic who becomes entertaining to the family when he drinks. But there’s no overlooking the fact that those comic antics show a man at his best only when he’s inebriated. It adds a touch of sadness and depth to the comedy.