Department of Theater, GMU Players Present ‘Ah, Wilderness!’

Posted: October 21, 2009 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: October 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm

GMU Players and the Department of Theater bring Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” to the stage Oct. 22, 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31 at 8 p.m., and Oct. 24 and 31, and Nov. 1 at 2 p.m.

Directed by associate professor of theater Howard Kurtz, “Ah, Wilderness!” will be performed in TheaterSpace on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

Set on July 4, 1906 in a small town in Connecticut, “Ah Wilderness!” is the story of Richard Miller, a recent high school graduate and voracious reader who devours the works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Omar Khayyam.

Richard’s mother believes that this literature is subversive and worries that her son is becoming an anarchist. As the valedictorian of his high school class, Richard decides to express his contempt for his small community by writing a speech that denounces capitalism. Nat, his father and the publisher of the town newspaper, learns of his son’s intended speech and saves him from public embarrassment.

Later at the town’s Independence Day picnic, Richard presents his girlfriend and neighbor, Muriel McComber, poems of his love and devotion to her as fireworks explode in the sky. Finding the love notes, Muriel’s father, David, destroys the poems and forbids Muriel from seeing Richard.

Heartbroken, Richard embarks upon a night of drinking and troublemaking that leaves Nat furious and disappointed in his son’s behavior. However, he comes to sympathize with Richard, reminiscing about his own struggles as a young man. Nat and Richard set out to work through the situation, and in so doing discover the strength of their father-son relationship.

After completing “Ah, Wilderness!” O’Neill said he wrote “a play true to the spirit of the American large small town at the turn of the century.” Nearly all of O’Neill’s plays involve some degree of tragedy and personal pessimism, with “Ah, Wilderness!” being the exception.

The play premiered on Broadway on Oct. 2, 1933, and was revived on Broadway in 1941, 1975, 1988 and 1991. “Ah, Wilderness!” was made into a film in 1935, and the story was the basis for the musicals “Summer Holiday” starring Mickey Rooney and “Take Me Along” starring Jackie Gleason.

Among O’Neill’s most famous works are three Pulitzer Prize winners: “Beyond the Horizon,” “Anna Christie” and “Strange Interlude.” Other well-known plays are “Desire Under the Elms,” “Mourning Becomes Electra,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “A Moon for the Misbegotten” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

O’Neill was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1936.

The GMU Players ensemble is a dynamic faculty-directed, student organization within the theater department. Howard Kurtz, has directed, designed sets and created costume and makeup for 15 years for the GMU Players. Kurtz currently teaches costume design, clothing construction and makeup, as well as an introductory theater course to nonmajors. Kurtz was the recipient of the George Mason University Fenwick Fellowship and was honored with the 2001 Teaching Excellence Award.

Tickets are $12 ($8 for students, seniors and Mason faculty and staff members). Limited free tickets are available for Mason students. Tickets may be purchased at the door one hour prior to the performance. To purchase tickets by phone, contact the Center for the Arts Box Office at 703-993-8888.

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