For 16-year-old Richard Miller, July 4, 1906, is independence day indeed. Believing himself rebuffed in first love by the elusive Muriel, he flees the warm bosom of his family-values- espousing home for the den of iniquity that is the Pleasant Saloon. There, emboldened by drink as foreign to his lips as curse words, he dallies (but never does anything with) a prostitute.
Summarily dumped for an experienced john, kicked out of the bar and reeling from booze, Richard staggers home long after the fireworks have fizzled out. But fireworks of another kind await—mother Lily and father Nat do not approve (though they don't agree on what Richard's punishment should be), and Muriel, it turns out, is not the jezebel Richard feared she was.
The venerable Eugene O'Neill wrote only one comedy, and Ah, Wilderness!, first produced in 1933, was it. New Village Arts kicks off its 11th Ensemble Project with a play that's sweet and warms the heart but lacks any palpable dramatic tension. We know Mom and Dad (Dana adam brick Case and Manny fernandes) are not going to horsewhip or even ground Richard. We know that Richard (Kyle Lucy) and Muriel (Kelly Iversen) are going to be romantically reunited. Beyond that, the Fourth of July is just, well, the Fourth of July.
This said, director Amanda Sitton, a fine actor in her own right, has conceived a number of stylish touches (including the use of music and an ensemble dance, to Feist's whimsical “1234,” after Richard and Muriel's first kiss). Deft turns by Lucy as Richard and Iversen as both Muriel and the impatient tart, compensate for obvious sight gags involving the family maid and an overlong—O'Neill can be blamed in part for this—dinner scene that opens Act 1. (Daren Scott, as tippling Uncle Sid, gives Dudley Moore's Arthur a rum-guzzling run for his money.)
O'Neill employed alcohol and drunkenness to more potent effect in masterpieces like A Long Day's Journey Into Night. Ah, Wilderness! is more of a long night's journey into luminance and into a new day when true love and tenderness prevail, leaving Richard, Muriel and the typically dark playwright's legacy unscathed.
Ah, Wilderness! runs through Aug. 28 at the New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad. $22-$38. newvillagearts.org
Hairspray: The venerable rock musical set in '60s Baltimore is based on the cult John Waters film. It opens Aug. 17 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. $27-$50. moonlightstage.com
2 Pianos 4 Hands: In this return engagement, two actors seated opposite each other at grand pianos tickle the ivories and relive their piano-prodigy pasts. Opens Aug. 18 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $30-$47. northcoastrep.org
Grace: The real-estate boom comes back to bite a religious-minded Florida couple in this local premiere of Craig Wright's play. Produced by Ion Theatre Company. It opens Aug. 20 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $10-$29. iontheatre.com
Mary Poppins: The Banks children set out on a series of adventures with their magical nanny. Produced by Broadway/San Diego, it runs through Aug. 21 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. $20 and up. broadwaysd.com
Wonder of the World: After discovering a shocking secret about her husband, Cass makes a mad dash for the life she thinks she missed out on. Through Aug. 21 at PowPAC in Poway. $13-$15. powpac.org
The Sound of Music: Music fuels the von Trapp family's unshakable bond as they flee Austria before the outbreak of World War II. Through Aug. 27 at Kit Carson Park Amphitheatre in Escondido. $10-$19. patioplayhouse.com
Ah, Wilderness!: Young would-be poet Richard Miller is in the throes of first love and is sure he loves Muriel McComber with a passion and depth that no one has experienced before. Through Aug. 28 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. $22-$38. newvillagearts.org
Hershey Felder in Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein: Pianist / composer Hershey Felder and director Joel Zwink collaborate for the fourth time at the Globe, this time on the life of the boundary-breaking Bernstein. Through Aug. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$81. oldglobe.org
The Love Suicides at Amijima: Two star-crossed lovers conspire to take their own lives amid the futility of their relationship. Produced by DangerHouse Productions, through Aug. 28 at Liberty Hall Theatre in National City. $10-$13. dangerhouse13.com
Sleeping Beauty Wakes: When a young woman visits a sleep-disorder clinic, the staff and patients start sharing her dreams. Through Aug. 28 at the Mandel Weiss Theatre in La Jolla. $47 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
Engaging Shaw: Charlotte Payne-Townsend sets to romancing the iconic playwright George Bernard Shaw—a job more complicated than any of his scripts. Through Sept. 4 at The Old Globe Theatre's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour makes a Faustian bargain with a mean, green, man-eating plant to provide fresh meat in exchange for money, fame and the love of his life. Produced by Cygnet Theatre Company, it runs through Oct. 2 at The Old Town Theatre. $34-$59. cygnettheatre.org
Amadeus: Composer Antonio Salieri throws up a series of roadblocks to sidetrack the career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his supposed archrival. Through Sept. 22 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Much Ado about Nothing: While Beatrice and Benedick hide their infatuation beneath witty barbs, young love blossoms as Hero and Claudio race to the altar, with the wicked Don John conspiring to break up the wedding. Through Sept. 24 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
The Tempest: With the help of his spirit friend Ariel, the magician Prospero conjures up a shipwreck that restores his daughter to her rightful place in the Milan hierarchy. Through Sept. 25 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Trying: Former chief judge of the Nuremberg Trials Francis Biddle's efforts to write his memoirs are complicated by “help” from a young assistant. Through Sept. 25 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net