by Brandon Mennenoh ’15
The students of Theatre Central took us back in time to the Fourth of July 1906 with the production “Ah, Wilderness!” by Eugene O’Neill, which follows the conversations and conflicts of the Miller family.
The play is set in a small town in Connecticut, and the Miller house is buzzing because of Independence Day. Mr. and Mrs. Miller are worried that their son Richard is reading books about anarchism. They also get word that he has been sending love letters to Muriel McComber, who recently broke off her relationship with Richard at the request of her father.
Although the show was set more than 100 years ago, the issues it addresses are still relevant in the 21st century: falling in love, getting your heart broken, drinking, rebelling against your parents and questioning authority.
Director Ann Wilkinson, instructor of theatre, says this particular script was chosen because it was written by a classic American playwright. “O’Neill was influenced by European playwrights in the sense that he wrote about more realistic things,” says Wilkinson.
“Ah, Wilderness!” was also selected to honor retiring set designer Greg Gillette, whose first professional production was by Eugene O’Neill. “He said, ‘I started with an O’Neill; let’s end with an O’Neill,’” explains Wilkinson.
Special guest Tom Vander Well of the Union Street Players of Pella played the role of Mr. Miller. Wilkinson says she likes to bring in guest performers so that the students can work with more experienced actors. Also, the partnership introduces Central’s theatre department to the larger community.
First-year Jacob Anderson, who played Richard, says, “This role was one of the first where I had to truly research the period and the materials that my character refers to. I got very close to my character and tried to get as close as I could to knowing exactly what it was like to live in his shoes. It has been a fun and new experience to get to perform and work my way around Theatre Central.”
As a first-year, Anderson got to know students from all four classes, as they were all represented in the cast. For senior theatre major Ben Fry, the production was a wonderful bookend to the relationships he has built over four years of acting at Central.
“I think the thing that I liked most about this production was the family aspect,” he says. “Our whole cast meshed together very well and created a family onstage and off.”
The same was true of nearly all the shows he has been involved in at Central. “I couldn’t have imagined doing any of this without the people there with me the whole way,” he says. “From the moment I walked in, I knew I was part of something. Throughout my career here, I have created so many lasting friendships and participated in so many great shows. Everything I have ever done here in theatre has been my favorite moments at Central.”