Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 28, 2021

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, "Ah, Wilderness!"

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through November 7, 2021
by Shera Cohen

Ready for a light touch contrasting the woes of the present, some crisp fall days in CT, where everyone in town knew everyone else, and doors were open because keys weren't necessary? Such is the backdrop of Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!" written in 1933 and set in 1906.

While the story is thin, no mystery, or psychological ponderings, the play is the antithesis of all of playwright Eugene O'Neill's other works. This was the man who wrote "Long Day's Journey into Night" and "A Moon for the Misbegotten?" Better check the playbill. The characters were not written by O'Henry or William Saroyan? O'Neill was the man who fashioned the loveable characters of "Ah, Wilderness!"? 

The audience is immediately taken into the open-air scaffolding of a large house of the era. Essentially, the wooden steps, beams, hallway, and doors build an entire two-story home of the Miller family. Jim Noone is a master set designer. Who needs solid wall entrances, framed pictures, and upholstered furniture when unnecessary? The crux of the story is the human interaction in speech and stance. Every character is likable, even the Scrooge-like man onstage for a short time.

The play is essentially an ensemble piece. Michael Boatman as the mildly buffoon Dad pretends that he rules the roost. Antoinette LaVecchia's Mother goes along for the ride. Jaevan Williams Son enthralled in gloriously forever love at age 16 with a girl from school. But, is the love reciprocated? It doesn't really matter; love is fleeting. O'Neill gives each character lots of humor for the audience to smile at; not laugh-out-loud or slapstick, but reminiscent of the sweetness that life can be. With one exemption, Joseph Adams, a salesman who always seems to stop by at dinnertime, spouts a litany of one-liners.

Bravo to Hartford Stage for the more and more frequently seen and appreciated color-blind casting.

Hartford Stage and Executive Director Melia Bensussen prove their worth, opening the season with this delightful play as contrast to the weighed load of 2019 - 21 (longer?) from the outside world. Important to know, as with all local performing arts venues: hand sanitizer and masks for all.