REVIEW: Ah, Wilderness!

12646739_10156560172865253_3737356820757965496_oEugene O’Neill was a tortured soul, a playwright known for writing depressing (but beautiful) stage plays focusing on the fringe in society.  Curious, then, is AH, WILDERNESS!  A romantic comedy, full of hope and wistful looks at marriage and love, it’s a departure from what he is mostly known for.

And the department of drama at UC-CCM’s production rings every last bit of sentiment out of it by casting some of the most charming, charismatic actors in their program.

First, the story: It’s the 4th of July and the Miller Family is celebrating.  We meet Nat, the father and newspaper man, and Essie, the mother.  Her sister, Lily, is there for the summer and has an ongoing flirtatious relationship with Sid, Nat’s friend.  And there are tons of children, including Tommy, the youngest, Mildred, a burgeoning young woman, Arthur, a Yale student, and Richard, the precocious high school student.  He’s the focus of this two and a half hour show.

Richard is in love, but he’s also full of teenage angst and reads poetry and plays that challenge the status quo.  He rages against celebration of the 4th of July but he also still loves fireworks.  Straddling that line between boy and man, he’s an interesting case study brought to life by the wonderful Andrew Hyuler Ramsey.

Ramsey posses a quick-wit. His comic timing is lithe, his boy next door sensibilities magnified by the outstanding costume design.  There’s an underlying sense of his big sense of humor perhaps pulled into some restraint by director R. Terrell Finney but Ramsey shines brightly in this role.  I look forward to seeing more from him.

His parents, played with maturity, by Devan Pruitt and Katie Langham, exemplify the type of professional acting we expect from CCM students.  Pruitt has presence for days and his chemistry with everyone in the cast is lovely.  He especially matches well with the outstanding Katie Langham.  Attention to detail is important as an actor and Langham uses her eyes, her face, her body language to convey emotion.  More importantly, she is engaged in true relationship, dialogue, and lives in the moment on stage.  I found myself leaning forward whenever she appeared on stage.

Other standouts include Andrew Iannacci, who’s drunken Sid was a highlight of the first half.  Also noteworthy are the solid performances of Owen Alderson, Rachel Baumgarten, Annie Grove, Isaac Hickox-Young, Spencer Lackey, and eighth grade CCM Prep student, Jonah Sorscher.

The language of this play is antiquated, of course.  It is set in 1906 and was written in the 1930s.  But the themes are as universal today as they were then, making it a good choice for a university production.  And CCM, as usual, delivers in performance.  I just wish it had a little more zip, a little more flair, and a little quicker pace.

Overall, though, I had a good time.  And I may have even shed a tear.

AH, WILDERNESS! runs through tomorrow afternoon at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.  Tickets and more information can be found here.