Timber Lake Playhouse's second production of the 2017 season provides a sentimental, nostalgic look at the American family and teenage rebellion.
Chuck Smith returns for his 16th consecutive year to direct "Ah, Wilderness!" by early 20th-Century playwright Eugene O'Neill. First produced on Oct. 2, 1933, at the Guild Theatre in New York City, the play looks at a middle class Connecticut family on July 4, 1906.
While grounded in 1906 by the language, dress and setting, the Miller family could be found in any time, representing members of every family. A great cast of actors bring this family to life.
Resident performer Charles Mayhew Miller portrays young Richard Miller wonderfully as the quintessential 17-year-old, rebelling from his parents and trying to sound smart and well-read. His struggle from childhood into adulthood, while dealing with young love, is a universal experience that most audience members can relate to.
Returning guest performers Pat and Patti Flaherty portray Richard's parents, Nat and Essie Miller. Pat's performance is perfect as the kind-hearted, funny and understanding Nat who anyone would want for a father. Patti's performance rings true as a mother worried about her son reading the shocking (for 1906) works of Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Algernon Charles Swinburne and more. Substituting these works for whatever books, movies or music was shocking in our own youth, Essie might remind us of our own mother.
Resident performer Cody Jolly returns to TLP for a fantastic performance as "drunk uncle" Sid Davis. Jolly's portrayal will have the audience laughing and crying at this lovable loser. Jolly's performance is heightened by resident performer Shaina Schrooten, portraying Lily Miller. Schrooten perfectly plays the heartbroken Lily who cannot help loving Sid, even as she refuses to be with him due to his drunkenness.
The Miller family is wonderfully rounded out by resident performers Nissi Shalome Smith as Mildred Miller and Ken Singleton as Arthur Miller, as well as young Caleb Hinkle of Milledgeville as Tommy Miller.
Though only in one scene, Brad Field of Mount Carroll shines as the angry and stubborn David McComber, who just wants Richard to stay away from his daughter, Muriel (whom Richard hopes to marry some day).
"Ah, Wilderness!" highlights love in all of its forms. This includes young love, old love, painful, impossible love and (most of all) the love of family. The production is rounded out beautifully by the rest of the cast including: Kieran McCabe; Elya Faye Bottiger; Christopher Kelly; Grant Alexander Brown; Emilie Kouatchou; Areo Keller.
Scenic designer Natalie Santoro and properties designer Calan Welder did a wonderful job transporting the audience into a middle class family home in 1906, as well as a seedy bar and a moonlit beach. Costume designer Ryan S. Ginter dressed the actors perfectly for the period.
The production also was made possible with the hard work of lighting designer Riley Wood, sound designer Colin Marshall, stage manager Rebecca Sharpe and the crews.
If a person is looking for a sentimental look at youth, love and family, "Ah, Wilderness!" is a worthwhile play to experience.
"Ah, Wilderness!" is playing at the playhouse in rural Mount Carroll through Sunday, June 24. Tickets are available online at timberlakeplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 815-244-2048. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.