Ah, Wilderness!  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Ah, Wilderness! is a comedy by American playwright Eugene O'Neill that premiered on Broadway at the Guild Theatre on 2 October 1933.


Plot summary

The play takes place on the Fourth of July, 1906, and focuses on the Miller family, presumably of New London, Connecticut. The main plot deals with the middle son, 17-year-old Richard, and his coming of age. The title derives from Quatrain XI of Edward Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which is one of Richard's favorite poems.


On the Fourth of July 1906 in a small Connecticut town, the Miller family is finishing breakfast. Nat Miller owns the local newspaper and, with his wife Essie, is raising a family of four. Eleven-year-old Tommy dashes outside to set off fireworks. Mildred, fifteen, teases her nineteen-year-old brother, Arthur, who plays football at Yale. Sharing the breakfast are Nat's sister Lily and Essie's brother Sid, who have had an on-and-off relationship for years, currently off because of Sid’s drinking.

Richard, nearly seventeen, is the one member of the family who has not come in from breakfast. His mother worries about the “subversive” books he is reading by the likes of Swinburne, Shaw, Oscar Wilde and the poet Omar Khayyam. She wonders if he will become an anarchist. Richard is passionately in love with Muriel, the girl next door.

The family gathering is broken up by Muriel's father, McComber, who accuses Richard of corrupting his daughter with love letters featuring quotations from the books. Miller defends his son, even though McComber is one of the paper’s biggest advertisers. McComber has punished Muriel, and presents her letter to Richard ending their relationship. Richard is devastated.

Later, Wint Selby, Arthur’s classmate at Yale, is looking for someone to go with him on a double date. With Arthur unavailable, Wint hesitantly agrees to take Richard. The “date” turns out to be a rendezvous with prostitutes. While Wint is upstairs Richard sits in the bar, drinking with twenty-year-old Belle, unsure what to do. He starts a fight with a salesman who has insulted Belle.

Richard’s parents fret about his late hour and, when he finally arrives, drunk and disheveled, Sid, expert in such matters, puts him to bed while his parents discuss his punishment. The next day, Nat comes home for lunch to punish Richard, who is still asleep. He and Essie disagree about what to do, and Nat goes back to work, secretly happy to postpone the confrontation. When Richard does come downstairs, his mother tells him that he must stay in the house. Almost immediately his sister Mildred arrives with a letter from Muriel promising her love and offering to sneak out that night to meet on the beach.

That evening, the young couple review the events of the holiday, and their future, and they kiss for the first time.

Back home, Nat and Essie discuss possible punishments, and the news that Muriel’s father has changed his mind about Richard. Richard arrives looking lovestruck, and Essie leaves him with his father. They talk about the dangers of drinking and loose women, and the play ends happily with Richard gazing at the moon while his parents enjoy a kiss.


  • Nat Miller: The head of the Miller household and the owner of the local newspaper, in his late fifties, a warm, wise, and understanding man.
  • Essie: Nat's wife, around fifty years old and the mother of four. She runs a well kept but lived-in house, in a “bustling, mother-of-a-family way.”
  • Arthur: The oldest of the Miller children, nineteen years old and a football player at Yale University. While home from college he has been dating a girl named Elsie Rand.
  • Richard: The second son of Nat and Essie, almost seventeen. He sees himself as a radical and a poet, although most of his words and actions are quite tame. He is in throes of first love, and is sure he loves Muriel McComber with a passion and depth that no one has experienced before.
  • Mildred: The only daughter of Nat and Essie, fifteen years old and considered attractive and vivacious. She is just old enough to be a great tease to her older brothers.
  • Tommy: The youngest child in the Miller family, eleven years old and bursting with energy.
  • Sid Davis: Essie's forty-five year old brother, a gambler and an alcoholic. He was once engaged to Lily, who broke off the engagement because of his drinking.
  • Lily Miller: Nat's forty-two year old sister, a schoolteacher who is unmarried and childless. “She conforms outwardly to the conventional type of old-maid school teacher.”
  • David McComber: Muriel's father, a local businessman who advertises in Nat’s newspaper. At first he disapproves of Richard and Muriel’s relationship, but later accepts it. He is a “thin, dried-up little man.”
  • Muriel McComber: The daughter of David McComber, almost sixteen, a pretty girl who is in love with Richard.
  • Wint Selby: A classmate of Arthur's at Yale, nineteen years old and a bit of a “hell-raiser.”
  • Belle: Twenty years old, Belle is a pretty, peroxide-blonde prostitute.
  • Nora: Mrs. Miller's Irish maid
  • Bartender
  • Salesman


Ah, Wilderness! was revived four times in on Broadway 1941, 1975, in 1988 with Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, and again in 1991.


The story was also made into the 1959 Broadway musical Take Me Along starring Jackie Gleason as the drunken Uncle Sid (Beery's role in the film), Walter Pidgeon as Nat and Robert Morse as Richard. The production ran for 448 performances. Gleason won the 1960 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

The play was made into a 1935 film of the same title and again in 1948 as the musical Summer Holiday, starring Mickey Rooney.

The play was also adapted for the radio on the Campbell Playhouse and Ford Theatre.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ah, Wilderness!" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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