‘Ah, Wilderness!’

Published 9:35 am Friday, February 5, 2010

“Ah, Wilderness!” runs Feb. 11-13 and Feb. 17-20 at 7:30 p.m. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 14.

Box office hours are from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. before Thursday and Friday performances, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. before Saturday performances and from 1 to 2 p.m. before the Sunday matinee. The box office phone number is 377-4371.

Individual ticket prices are $14 for adults and $10 for students.

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When Glen Parsons was a young teacher getting started in Albert Lea, he decided to get involved in an Albert Lea Community Theatre production as a way to get to know people in town.

Now, all these years later, he’s directing the Eugene O’Neill comedy, “Ah, Wilderness!” — the same play he started with back in 1975. The play opens its two-week run Thursday at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center.

Parsons said he loves the play, which he describes as “a little slice of Americana.” It’s a nostalgic look at American family life at the turn of the century.

The play is O’Neill’s only comedy among his other heavy writings, including “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “The Iceman Cometh,” “Mourning Becomes Electra” and “Desire Under the Elms.” The play premiered on Oct. 2, 1933, and has stood the test of time, the director said.

O’Neill describes this play as “a sort of wishing out loud. It is the way I would have liked my childhood to have been.” The playwright grew up moving constantly in a dysfunctional family of depressed drug users. He would become an alcoholic and suffer from depression himself, Parsons said.

Over the course of a Fourth of July weekend in Connecticut in 1906, a young man, Richard, who is 17, has his heart broken, discovers drink and loose women and puts his heart back together again. The play contrasts young love with the enduring affection of the young man’s parents and with the failed relationship of the boy’s alcoholic uncle and spinster aunt.

“The fact that it is set in a different time is also part of the charm,” Parsons said.

The set design — all in front of the Miller family livingroom — is by Steve Kinney. “It’s a huge set and it’s going to be beautiful,” Parsons said.

The play features Jay Paul as Nat Miller, Jody Ellertson as Essie Miller, Ben Knudson as Arthur Miller, Zach Wilke as Richard Miller, Stephi Falk as Mildred Miller and Travis Nemec as Tommy Miller.

Craig Johnson plays Sid Davis, Essie’s brother who gambles and is an alcoholic. Sheri Nemec plays Lily Miller, Nat’s spinster sister.

Larry Langsev is David McComber, and Emily Troe plays Muriel, his daughter and Richard’s girlfriend.

Marley Cardona has duo roles as Wint Selby, Arthur’s classmate at Yale and the bartender.

Natalie Runden plays Belle and Samantha Klukow plays Nora.

Parsons said he is delighted with the cast. “This play really has heart,” he said. “I think we’ve achieved that. I feel like this cast has really melded together.”

He said any parent will revel in the talk Nat must have with Richard.

“There’s some really fun comic stuff throughout the show,” Parsons added.

Joan Muschler, Pat Parsons and Carol Larson are doing costume design. Bill Schmitt is doing the set dressing. Crystal Schatz is doing props. Jan Rogness is the stage manager. Lori Larsen is running sound and Kris Bartley is running lights. Mike Wangen is the lighting designer.

The play runs Feb. 11-13 and Feb. 17-20 at 7:30 p.m. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 14.