There is no playwright whose work and life have captivated me more, over the course of my career, than Eugene O’Neill. Always vast in ambition and scope, O’Neill elevated American playwriting in the early 20th century, penning thematically hefty plays and paving the way for writers like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee. Emerging from an economically privileged but emotionally ruinous childhood, O’Neill portrayed the proverbial glass as half empty, writing of family relationships smashed beyond repair, individuals interminably mired in their own self-loathing, and substance abuse that curled its devious tendrils around all aspects of a character’s life.
Those were his topics, that is, except when he wrote Ah, Wilderness!
In this nostalgic comedy, O’Neill introduces us to the Miller family—middle-class residents of a small town in Connecticut whose love for each other prevents them from falling into the common O’Neillian traps of alcoholism, lack of connection and existential torment. Like O’Neill’s best-known dramas Long Day’s Journey Into Night and The Iceman Cometh, the play presents flawed individuals—but for the characters in Ah, Wilderness!, foibles don’t lead inevitably to misery. It is a rare opportunity for O’Neill fans to peer inside the dramatist’s mind—and get the sense that everything just might be all right.
While I have spent much of my 30 years at the Goodman diving again and again into O’Neill’s oeuvre, I am pleased in this instance to present a different director’s interpretation of this towering playwright’s work. Steve Scott is an artist of extraordinary intellectual and theatrical distinction who has made an indelible mark on countless Chicago theaters; at the Goodman, he most recently directed the boisterously bleak Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in 2015. But his influence on the Goodman, and on me, goes far beyond the work audiences see on stage. In his position as the Goodman’s Producer—a job he has indefatigably held since 1987, after serving for several years in our Education department–Steve has overseen hundreds of productions, helped shepherd the Goodman through periods of tremendous growth, mentored dozens of staff members and has been one of my closest colleagues and confidants.
This summer, he is retiring from his full-time position, and I know that no aspect of life at the Goodman—from season planning to fundraising— will be the same without him. I am fortunate to share a life in the theater with a man who embodies the ideals of the art form and whose quick laugh belies his deep wisdom. And I cannot think of a more suitable director than Steve for this humorous, warm and achingly human play.
Buy tickets and learn more about Ah, Wilderness! here. Tickets start at just $25!