Beaumont Theater

A Eugene O'Neill? Yes! Although he is one of the pillars of 20th-century drama and created some of the most memorable, tragic stories for the stage, O'Neill did write one comedy in 1933: AH, WILDERNESS! This play was a departure for O'Neill, most of whose plays are moody meditations on life's darker side. In 1932, he was struggling with a third draft for his religious-themed play Days Without End and decided to take a break from it when he awoke one morning with the outline for AH, WILDERNESS! He wrote it in just a few weeks, with little revision once the draft was done. In sharp contrast to the gloom of his tragedies, AH, WILDERNESS! is a joyous and humorous depiction of American family life at the turn of the century. Set on July 4, 1906, this is a sweet—but not saccharine—valentine to a simpler time in America, during the halcyon days before the World Wars. The play is a fantasy of the happy childhood O'Neill never had, the flip side of the painful family portrait he gives in Long Day's Journey. AH, WILDERNESS! takes place in a small town on the Connecticut shore (not unlike New London, where O'Neill spent a lot of his early years). Most of the play occurs in the home of Nat and Essie Miller. Nat owns the local newspaper and his teenage son, Richard—a stand-in for O'Neill—is in love with Muriel, the daughter of Nat's largest advertiser. Her conservative father is outraged when Richard attempts to "corrupt" his daughter by exposing her to "scandalous" books by George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and the 12th-century poet Omar Khayyam. The teenagers are forbidden by their parents to see each other. When Richard mistakenly thinks Muriel has agreed to end their relationship, he goes to a local backroom bar and gets drunk for the first time, causing uproar when he gets home. The next day he learns that Muriel still cares for him and they meet in secret at a deserted local beach, where they finally profess their youthful devotion to each other. In a letter to his son Eugene Jr., O'Neill said of AH, WILDERNESS!: "It has a very little plot. It is more the capture of a mood, an evocation [of] the spirit of a time that is dead now with all its ideals manners and codes—the period in which my middle 'teens' were spent. There is very little autobiographical about it... It is not a play one can explain. Perhaps if I give you a subtitle you will sense the spirit of what I've tried to recapture in it: 'A Nostalgic Comedy of the Ancient Days when Youth was Young, and the Right was Right, and Life was a Wicked Opportunity.' Yes it is a comedy—and not in the satiric vein like [my] Macro Millions--and not deliberately spoofing at the period... But hell, that doesn't say what I mean. It's in the mood of the play, as you'll see when you read it. The point is, it's new ground for me."