No Country for Young Men

Conor McPherson and Eugene O'Neill spin rueful tales to lost youth

In the second act of Ah, Wilderness!, as too often in its author's life, the scene shifts to a bar. Here a heartbroken and half-soused Richard has fallen in with a comely demimondaine named Belle (Mia Barron), who suggests fireworks of a different sort. It is here also that the Guthrie's production hits its broadest and funniest peak. As the jaded prostitute jeers, Richard stumbles about the room as though in parody of the alcoholic actor acting alcoholic in A Moon for the Misbegotten. Chairs are overturned, grandly poetic proclamations made, and Richard is sent scurrying back into the bosom of his family.

Laying down the law: Richard Miller (T.R. Knight) gets a lesson in etiquette from his father Nat Miller (Nathaniel Fuller) in Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!
Laying down the law: Richard Miller (T.R. Knight) gets a lesson in etiquette from his father Nat Miller (Nathaniel Fuller) in Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness!

In a Guthrie production that makes shifts in tone as subtly as the rising twilight in the background, the slide toward O'Neill's bittersweet denouement comes easily. Richard, after sneaking out to rendezvous with his true love on a moonlit beach, has returned home to face his parents' wrath. Instead, he finds them only too willing to forgive his tentative stab at debauchery. Here, again, is the family O'Neill chose to remember: wise, affectionate, and only too eager to offer shelter from the storms of youth. In the end, Richard returns to the beach and stands facing the sea, which, as in so many O'Neill plays, becomes a metaphor for the promise of a new world. The final image beautifully captures the spirit of O'Neill's idyll--that fleeting moment when all roads stretch before us and all lands lie yet undiscovered.

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