Ah Wilderness! is a feel good comedy

by Rachel Brown

Iowa City – Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! is not a show I would have ever associated with the Riverside Shakespeare Festival because, well, It’s not Shakespeare. But, fear not! I hear it on good authority and from the theatre interns at Riverside that it is quite common for Shakespeare festivals to include shows that are not written by The Bard.

The 12th annual Riverside Shakespeare Festival opened this weekend with O’Neill’s classic tale of young love and the American family, Ah Wilderness!. Set in a “large-small-town” in Connecticut on the 4th of July 1906, the play follows 17-year old Richard Miller and his family on a two day roller-coaster ride of young love and its trials and tribulations. Richard struggles with his innocence and idealism at the heart of a traditional American family living in a much simpler time; a time when riding in the car was a special occasion and the writings Oscar Wilde and Omar Khayyam were considered anarchist.

Christopher Peltier provided a painfully accurate portrayal of Richard, with all the innocence of a 17-year old hopeless romantic facing his first taste of heartbreak. Christopher brought forward a surprising range of emotion and tenderness to the character. It was easy for me to empathize with him.

The head of the Miller household, Nat Miller (Ron Clark) and his wife Essie Miller (Jody Hovland) are fun and full of energy. They are a delight to watch as they bicker and tease and run their family.

Jim Van Valen steals the show with his portrayal of Sid Davis, the ever-joking and often drunk brother of Essie Miller. There wasn’t a moment he was on stage that he didn’t command the attention of the audience, however he was conscious to not pull focus when it wasn’t his job to do so.

The supporting cast, notably the actors playing the three other Miller children, Zachary Andrews (Arthur Miller), Sarah Smithton (Mildred Miller) and Sarah Smith (Tommy Miller) rounded out the show and balanced out their brother’s plight with humor.

Costumes and hair for this show were everything that I would expect from a professional company. They were well designed, well made, appropriate to the time period and showcased the characters. The same can be said for the set design. It was simple, unobtrusive and well thought out, providing the flexibility to use pieces several times for different scenes. Even the scene changes were peppy and quick, something I always appreciate when seeing a show.

I truly enjoy experiencing shows at the festival stage. It brings me back to the roots of theatre and it was a wonderful setting for this show, although next time I will remember that shows start at 8 p.m. and not arrive ungodly early. However, one reward of arriving as early as I did was I was able to catch the short “Green show” put on by the theatre interns speculating whether or not William Shakespeare had time-traveled to modern times and penned Ah Wilderness! under the assumed name of Eugene O’Neill – an interesting and entertaining concept, however far-fetched.

If you are up for a feel-good comedy, please make the time to see Ah, Wilderness! at the Riverside Theatre Festival Stage in Lower City Park. Have no fear – bug spray and rain ponchos are available. The show will be playing June 29th, 30th and July 2nd, 5th, 8th and 10th while sharing space with their second show Two Gentlemen of Verona. Tickets can be ordered by phone at 319-338-7672, or at the Riverside Theatre Box Office, 213 N. Gilbert St, Iowa City.

Riverside’s Summer Shakespeare Festival Begins June 17th

Iowa City – This year’s Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival will consist of Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Ron Clark, and Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!, directed by Theodore Swetz.

This is the 12th annual installment of Riverside’s outdoor theatre. Beginning June 17th, the two shows will run in repertory until July 10th.

Ah, Wilderness! is a Eugene O’Neill comedy set on the 4th of July of 1906. It had a successful run on Broadway in 1930s, as well as several notable revivals.

From Riverside’s press release:

“Seventeen-year-old Richard Miller has been inhaling the intoxicating fumes of literature, first love and independence, and testing his good-natured parents with his awkward struggle to become a man. When his true love spurns him, Richard heals his wounds with gin fizzes and a tart’s kisses in a roadside dive. How the Miller clan copes with his rebellious attitude is a study of family ties and horse sense.”

Ah, Wilderness! will be performed June 17, 18, 29, 30 and July 2 & 8 at 8pm; June 19 and July 5 & 10 at 7pm.

Two Gentlemen of Verona is thought to be Shakespeare’s earliest play, and is definitely one of his zaniest. The plot revolves around two friends pursuing the same woman.

From Riverside’s press release:

“Proteus falls for the new object of Valentine’s affections—Silvia. Forsaking his own betrothed, Julia, Proteus sets out to betray his unsuspecting friend, only to find that both sharp-witted women have a thing or two to teach him about loyalty and love. Clever servants, disguises, and a dog named Crab enhance the zaniness.”

Two Gentlemen of Verona will be performed June 24, 25 and July 1, 3, 6 and 7 at 8pm; June 26 & 28 and July 9 at 7pm.

More information can be found on Riverside’s website.

Auditions for Kids and Canines for Shakespeare Festival

Iowa City – Riverside Theatre will hold auditions for both kids and canines on Saturday, April 16 at the Riverside Festival Stage in Lower City Park.

This year’s Shakespeare Festival acting company will include one child to play the role of Tommy Miller, 10-12 years old, in Ah, Wilderness! as well as a dog named Crab in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Canine candidates for the role of Crab the dog will be seen beginning at 11:30 a.m. Dogs must be mature, calm, easy to handle, and not agitated by large and enthusiastic audiences. The dog must be available for select rehearsals in June, plus all performances: June 17-19, 29-30, July 2, 5, 8, 10.

Auditions for the child’s role – both boys and girls will be considered – will begin at 1 p.m. Those auditioning should prepare a brief poem or prose piece that they will be asked to read in their best outside voice; they may also be asked to read from the script. Performance experience is preferred, but not required; a strong voice is essential. The child must be available for select rehearsals beginning in mid-May, plus all performances June 24-26, 28, July 1, 3, 6-7, 9.

To sign up for an audition call the Riverside Theatre Box Office at 319-338-7677. Those with questions about the auditions should contact Riverside Theatre Artistic Director Jody Hovland at 319-887-1360 or artistic@riversidetheatre.org.

Riverside Announces 2011 Shakespeare Festival Shows

Riverside – This year’s Riverside Shakespeare Festival, the company’s twelfth, will feature a Eugene O’Neill play alongside a Shakespeare comedy.

The plays will be Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Ron Clark, and O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness!, directed by Theodore Swetz. The two shows will run in repertory from June 17th to July 10th in Lower City Park in Iowa City.

“Neither of these has been produced for the Festival before,” said Artistic Director Jody Hovland in a press release. “They’re both comedies, and both coming-of-age stories, but the feel of each play is very distinct: Ah, Wilderness! is warm and gentle, Two Gents is a merry, action-packed chase.”

Ah, Wilderness,first produced in 1933, is set on the 4th of July, 1906, and is concerned with the problems of the Miller family. 17-year-old Richard is in love with passion, poetry and Muriel. When his relationship is threatened, however, he is devastated, and he resorts to drink and loose women. His family deals with the fallout in this “study of family ties and horse sense.”

Two Gentlemen of Verona is a “madcap romp” involving two friends, Proteus and Valentine, whose friendship is tested by a woman, Silvia. Proteus’s fiancee, Julia, is none too pleased with this state of affairs of course. Cue disguises, confusion of identity, unlikely and ridiculous events: all the hallmarks of a classic Shakespeare comedy.

Riverside will be auditioning for actors for the Festival beginning December 11th. Information follows:

“Riverside Theatre will hold area auditions for the professional company of the 2011 Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival on Saturday, December 11, 2010, beginning at noon. Auditions will be held at the theatre, 213 N. Gilbert Street in Iowa City. To schedule an audition appointment, call the Riverside Theatre box office at (319) 338-7672.

Riverside Theatre will employ a full time, professional company, both Equity and non-Equity actors. All professional actors will be cast in both Festival shows and will also understudy. Full-time rehearsals begin May 17. The productions, Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! (directed by Theodore Swetz) and Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona (directed by Ron Clark), open in mid-June and play through July 10, an 8-week contract. Audition requirements: photo/resume, two contrasting monologues (one classical and one contemporary), three minutes maximum.

Auditions/interviews for the Shakespeare Festival Intern Company, open to undergraduate, graduate students or others seeking a full-time professional experience in the areas of acting, directing and stage management, will be held February 5, 2011.”

More information here.