Ah, Wilderness! – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Playwright Eugene O’Neill did not write comedies. His main characters did not live happily ever after. There were no scenes of joyful family get togethers. His creations suffered long and hard into the night. The exception is his definitely different take on the Miller family in his one and only comic turn “Ah, Wilderness!,” a coming-of-age story at the turn of the century America that premiered on Broadway in 1933.

On the Fourth of July in 1906, we meet the Millers and their precocious middle son Richard who at sixteen is experiencing growth pains and exploring controversial social ideas. Is he dealing with youthful idealism or is he truly a rebel bent on rebellion? Thought to be modeled after O’Neill himself, the play which was written in a single month examines a world quite different from his usual milieu. Here Richard, despite his wild actions as a would be poet, is part of a loving family who care for him deeply and are willing and able to pull him back from the cliff he seems ready to plunge over.

The Hartford Stage is anxious for you to experience live theater again with Eugene O’Neill’s comedy “Ah Wilderness!” postponed from the 2019-2020 season. Until Sunday, November 7, you are invited to take a seat in James Noone’s delightfully detailed summer house in New London, Connecticut to celebrate Independence Day. Richard, a free thinking and philosophical Jaevon Williams, is ready to take on love and poetry as his unalienable rights. His father Nate, a concerned Michael Boatman, and his mother, a protective Antoinette LaVecchia, are notably concerned when their middle son shows signs of teenage mutiny.

Who can blame Richard when he receives a letter of farewell from his new love Muriel (Brittany Anikka Liu), delivered personally by her irate father (Joseph Adams)? He is informed his fancy ideas and poetic outbursts are to stop immediately.

What is a poor lad to do? With innocence on Richard’s side and indiscretion from an instigating friend Wint (Tanner Jones), Richard plows straight into trouble and has to be rescued from his worst enemy, himself. Heaven forbid he takes to alcohol like his Uncle Sid (McCaleb Burnett) who has been a disappointment to Lily (Natascia Diaz) who has been waiting in vain for Sid to reform. Additional members of this talented cast include Katerina McCrimmon, Myles Low, Stuart Rider, Antonio Jose Jeffries and Annie Jean Buckley.

Artistic director Melia Bensussen has heightened the play’s enjoyment by sprinkling music in the production played by pianist Yan Li and sung by various cast members, with period costumes designed by Olivera Gajic.

For tickets ($30 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at HartfordStage.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m Saturday and Sunday, with select weekday matinees at 2 p.m. Remember your vaccination cards and masks.

Settle back for a kinder, gentler world where one rebellious teen finds his way to adulthood, with old-fashioned charm laced with nostalgia.

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