The Howard – Theater Review – “Ah Wilderness!” at Hartford Stage

Reviewer:                       Howard Steven Frydman

Theater:                         The Hartford Stage

Production:                     “Ah Wilderness!” 

Playwright:                     Eugene O’Neill

Director:                         Melia Bensussen

“Things are always better in the morning.” ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 A glorious morning has finally arrived- the return of live theater – a return to the Quality, Innovation, Artistic Excellence that we have so lovingly longed for – Ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs, damen und herren, –  Curtain Up! We have joyfully returned to Connecticut’s premiere theater – The Hartford Stage and the opening night of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah Wilderness”, directed by Melia Bensussen. Thank you Ms. Bensussen, Thank you Hartford Stage – things are always better with theater in our lives!

Critics night – We are among a thong of special guests this evening- the Hartford theater who’s-who are in the house for this special opening night- including: Rob Ruggiero, Artistic Director at TheaterWorks; Robert H. Davis, Professor of Theater at the Hartt School, actor, voice/dialect coach; famed actress Johanna Morrison; and of course Melia Bensussen, the Hartford Stage’s Artistic Director, is everywhere, beaming with smiles, greeting invitees, welcoming all to a grand night of theater – an endearing wish has come true, we are back in a theater!

Melia Bensussen,

“Ah Wilderness!” opens the 2021-2022 season at Hartford Stage, and is repeatedly reported as O’Neill’s only full-length well-known comedy, depicting a happy, gentle family of manners, and a story that ends with a happily gentle ever after. “Ah Wilderness!” had its premiere in 1933 at the Guild Theater on Broadway. The play is set in our own beautiful coastal community of New London, Connecticut, – and by the way Playwright Eugene O’Neill spent his boyhood summers here – me thinks one of the characters, koff koff – Richard is a disguised Eugene!

 It’s the Fourth of July, 1906, and we are introduced to the Miller family – Nat Miller, owner of the local paper, Nat’s wife Essie – mother of 4 – Arthur, Mildred, Tommy the youngest, and 16 year old Richard and his coming of age – yes a “Wonder Years” in turn of the century America. Along the way, there is a few drunken interludes, some old maids, a hotsy-totsy, a meanie next door neighbor, young love, a lobster boil, and even live on stage music and song. If you were asking yourself where does the title derive from –  it’s  from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam – Richard’s  favorite poem – hmmm that poem must be hot stuff – it even makes its way into the musical – “The Music Man”.

Even though Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Ah Wilderness!” is stated as his only comedy, I freely have to admit, I did not find the play “ha ha funny”, yet it does get you working your eyes and ears – it’s the type of play where you are watching/listening for the nuances of language, the back and forth of verbal on stage battles that often times leads to a laugh or two. Truly you are here for the actors- a wonderful cadre of Actors emoting – live actors. Throughout the plays 2 hours 10 minutes, I literally have my head in my hands, at the edge of my seat, engrossed in the happy sensation of watching an ultra fine troupe of actors plying their craft to a house of a most appreciative audience- brava to our cast. 

And now our cast- a deep bow to you all- you are all truthfully gifted actors – I name you here – Joseph Adams, Michael Boatman, Annie Jean Buckley, McCaleb Burnett, Natascia Diaz, Antonio Jose Jeffries, Tanner Jones, Antoinette LaVechhia, Brittany Anikka Liu, Myles Low, Katerina McCrimmon, Stuart Rider, and Jaevon Williams. I am proud to provide the coveted “Howard Noticed You” award to both Joseph Adams and his absolutely amazing depiction of the curmudgeonly neighbor “McCumber” – we just love to hate ya- ya did good, and finally major kudos to Jaevon Williams as “Richard” – a stunning, heartfelt performance sir- I look forward to seeing you starring on Broadway. The Hartford Stage has provided an excellent LIVE production that is not to be missed! Enjoy!

“Ah, Wilderness!” runs October 14 through November 7 with performances on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm; with select weekday matinees at 2pm. Hartford Stage is located at 50 Church Street in downtown Hartford.Tickets for “Ah, Wilderness!”, with prices starting at $30, are on sale now and can be reserved by visiting HartfordStage.org or calling (860) 527-5151. Information on discounts and free ticket programs can be found at HartfordStage.org/show/discount-programs.

Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at TheHoward24@gmail.com.

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