Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Ah, Wilderness!
American Conservatory Theater
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Eddie's reviews of Ghost Quartet and Heromonster, Richard's reviews of Pound and Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra, and Patrick's reviews of The Hypocrites' Pirates of Penzance and The Creature.


Thomas Stagnitta and Rosa Palmeri
Photo by Kevin Berne
American Conservatory Theater is presenting a delightful production of Eugene O'Neill comedy Ah, Wilderness!. What a pleasure to see the feel-good joy of a simpler age performed by an excellent cast consisting of veteran actors and new graduates from American Conservatory theatre school.

O'Neill wrote the play in 1932 as a relief from the strains of Mourning Becomes Electra, and the result is a warm, gentle play that evokes an American middle-class family. The year is 1906 and the place a Connecticut summer house and it's the 4th of July. The drama/comedy focuses on the Miller family. Nat Miller (Anthony Fusco) owns the local newspaper and his wife Essie (Rachel Ticotin) runs the household, which includes not only four children but also his spinster sister Lily (Margo Hall) and her brother Sid (Dan Hiatt) who is an alcoholic. The hero of piece is Richard (Thomas Stagnitta), one of Nat and Essie's sons, a teenage anarchic rebel whose head is filled with the poetry of Swinburne and Fitzgerald and the plays of Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, and Ibsen.

Ah, Wilderness! has a dreamlike quality about it. Even the wonderful scene in which lovelorn Richard seeks refuge in a back-room bar with prostitute Belle (played vibrantly by Caitlyn Taylor) seems to be taking place in a vision. The last scenes between Richard and his girlfriend Muriel (an appealing Rosa Palmeri) are captivating.

Thomas Stagnitta, a third year student in the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts program, is charismatic as the adolescent philosopher/lover/son Richard. He delivers precisely the right trembling, egocentric understanding. Anthony Fusco gives a wonderful mix of hounding bluster and tender concern as Nat Miller. Rachel Ticotin gives a first rate performance as Essie, while Dan Hiatt is terrific as the jovial, soused Uncle Sid. Margo Hall is pitch perfect as the unattached sister Lily who secretly has a thing for Sid. Both Hiatt and Hall's performances are right on the mark.

Michael Mcintire and Christina Liang, who are also third year students, give good performances as Arthur and Mildred Miller, and nine-year-old up and coming actor Brandin Francis Osborne is impressive as the youngest member of the family, Tommy. Rounding out the large cast are Jennifer Reddish, Matthew Cabparat, Arthur Wise, and Matthew Baldiga all of whom give admirable performances.

Casey Stangl's direction of the two hour and 30 minute production is well paced and he has given us a fine family portrait. Furniture is sparse on scenic designer Ralph Funicello's stage, while lighting designer Robert Wierzel helps produce the dreamlike flavor of the production. Costumes by Jessie Wierzel are wonderful early 20th century outfits.

Ah, Wilderness! runs through November 8th, 2015, at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org. Coming up next is the annual A Christmas Carol opening December 4th.


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