Arts & Humanities

'Ah Wilderness!' Takes Stage at Caine Lyric Theatre

The Department of Theatre Arts in Utah State University’s Caine College of the Arts (CCA) presents Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! with special guest director Paul Barnes Dec. 2-6 at 7:30 p.m. with a special matinee Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Caine Lyric Theatre in historic downtown Logan.

Revived in 1998 to acclaim at New York’s Lincoln Center, Ah, Wilderness! is a sharp departure from the gritty reality of the author’s renowned dramas. Taking place over the July Fourth weekend of 1906 in an idyllic Connecticut town, it offers a tender retrospective portrait of small town family values, teenage growing pains and young love.

Ah, Wilderness! was chosen to help introduce our audiences to the work of this Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning dramatist, said Ken Risch, head of USU’s Department of Theatre Arts. The play follows 16-year-old Richard Miller as he comes of age. As the Miller family plans its traditional July Fourth festivities, Richard is wrestling with cultural conventions, political uncertainty, the power of literature and the exquisite pain of love.

Barnes, a freelance theater director from Ashland, Ore., is an education director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, co-founder of Oregon Cabaret Theatre, conservatory director and associate artistic director at Pacific Conservatory Theatre in Santa Maria and Solvang, Calif., and co-founder of the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minn.

“As a guest of the department, I hope I will complement what is being taught here and enhance the foundation that is being so well laid by the USU theater department faculty,” said Barnes. “I hope I’ll help provide the students with a stepping stone in their training and, perhaps, a different perspective that someone who is making his living in professional theater can bring to this project.”

The Department of Theatre Arts invited Barnes to USU to work with the students.

“Whenever we have the resources it is important to provide our students with opportunities to work closely with professional theater artists whose creative activity takes place largely outside of the academic environment,” Risch said. “This is crucial in preparing [students] to successfully enter the professional world once they have completed their university training.”

Barnes is committed to building relationships and continuing to work with the students.

“I hope to be an ongoing professional resource for students in the training programs here.” Barnes said. “Relationships in the theater are forged over a long arc of time, and my time here in Logan may well provide a first step towards forging professional connections that can be of help as students pursue their careers.”

Ah, Wilderness! is, by O’Neill’s own admission, an imagined version of what his upbringing and family life might have been had circumstances been different, said Barnes. It has a sweetness to it that O’Neil saw in other families during the time he was growing up, but only rarely in his own. The play harkens back to a time when America was experiencing peace and prosperity. The sentimental gentility of the time permeates the play, in a lovely, idealized way in which no family problem is terribly serious or unable to be solved through compassion or love.

Eugene O’Neill is considered by many to be our foremost American playwright, said Risch. He was a very complex man who opened the door for experimentation and for serious work to be accepted as commercially viable at a time when the American theater was largely made up of frivolous musical entertainments and poorly written melodramas. His best plays are those inspired by people and events in his personal life and his difficult relationships with women who he felt were both nurturers and destroyers.

Ah, Wilderness stands apart from his work for many reasons, but to me its heart is found in the playwright’s attempt to depict what he wanted his family to be instead of what it was,” said Risch. “For those who know about O’Neill’s life, there is a sadness in that even though the play is ultimately a gentle love-letter to a simpler time.”

Sydnee Fullmer, a CCA student who plays the role of Essie Miller, said the opportunity to work with Barnes has been a rewarding, growing and learning experience.

“The students have all worked so hard to tell this beautiful story,” said Fullmer. “Ah, Wilderness! is a story without affectation, pretense or any other sort of frivolous fluff. It’s a story about family and what it means to grow and learn, no matter what stage in life you may be in. It’s funny, touching and it may just break your heart a little.”

Barnes hopes audiences who are attending the performance will enjoy an evening filled with plentiful laughter and not a few tears.

“I believe that all plays have a way of reflecting our own lives back at us, and I hope that audiences will see a part of themselves in the characters and situations of Ah Wilderness!,” said Barnes. “I’d be very pleased if the play’s message of love, compassions and acceptance help remind us of the beauty and the power of family while also returning us to a time that seems in many ways far more innocent, far less cynical and much more hopeful than the one in which we are currently living.”

Ah, Wilderness! is showing Dec. 2-6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Caine Lyric Theatre, located at 28 W. Center Street in downtown Logan. A 2 p.m. matinee will be performed Saturday, Dec. 6. Tickets are $13 adults, $10 seniors and youth, $8 USU faculty and staff and free for USU students with ID. For more information or tickets, contact the CCA Box Office in room L-101 of the Chase Fine Arts Center on USU’s campus, call 435-797-8022, or see the Caine College’s Production Services website.

Related links:

USU Theatre Arts Department

USU Caine College of the Arts

Contact: Denise Albiston, 435-797-1500, denise.albiston@usu.edu

Writer: Whitney Schulte, 435-797-9203, whitney.schulte@usu.edu

cast members and guest director from 'Ah Wilderness'

From the Utah State University theater production "Ah Wilderness," (l to r) Joshua Wright as the salesman, Max Falls as Arthur Miller and Emily Powell as Norah with guest director Paul Barnes. (photo: Andrew McAllister, staff photographer, CCA)

graphic illustration for theater production of 'Ah Wilderness'

The production plays Dec. 2-6 at the Caine Lyric Theatre in downtown Logan, 28 W. Center Street.

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