We saw Peter Atkinson in “Ah, Wilderness!” yesterday at the Black Box Theater at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture on Bleeker Street, where he played the part of Richard Miller:

Ah, Wilderness! is a classic American comedy about the trials and tribulations of a young man and his loving family in a small Connecticut town on July 4, 1906. Playwright Eugene O’Neill described it as, “A nostalgic comedy of the ancient days when youth was young, and the right was right, and life was a wicked opportunity.” Presented by Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and The Storm Theatre. Peter Dobbins, Director.

Peter is at Columbia working on his MFA, and it was great to see him on the stage. Never would have predicted I’d have the pleasure after meeting him years ago outside The Bean in Ave Maria, Florida. Here’s Terry Teachout on the production:

“Ah, Wilderness!” hit big on Broadway in 1933, was promptly turned into an equally successful movie, and has been a community-theater standby ever since. In addition, it gets done with modest regularity by regional companies that can afford to produce a play that calls for four sets and a 15-person cast. But it hasn’t been seen on Broadway since Lincoln Center Theater’s 1998 revival, and there haven’t been any off-Broadway stagings since then, either. …

The best thing about “Ah, Wilderness!” is the way in which it mixes sweetness with sorrow. It stands to reason that O’Neill, who subtitled the play “A Comedy of Recollection in Three Acts,” would have been inclined to mix these two strong flavors. “Ah, Wilderness!” is the theatrical equivalent of a reverse image of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the tragedy in which he dwelled at length on the horrific shortcomings of his real- life family. In “Ah, Wilderness!” he chose instead to evoke the imagined shades of the Millers, the family he would have preferred, headed by Nat (Mr. Trammell), the tolerant, supportive father, and Essie (Lynn Laurence), the kindly mother. In addition, he portrayed himself when young as Richard (Peter Calvin Atkinson), a lovesick innocent who reads George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde on the sly but remains a virgin. Indeed, poor Richard is so idealistic that he actually contrives in the second act to visit a whorehouse without effect, coming home drunk but unspotted.

Terry Teachout, Kathryn Jean-Lopez, and others have praised the production:

“A stripped down production of Eugene O’Neill’s only mature full-length comedy shows that the playwright’s work endures. You’ll be charmed!” –Terry Teachout

“Smoothly directed by Peter Dobbins, the piece is as stageworthy as ever…[Peter Atkinson] embodies adolescent angst to the point of making someone well past adolescence recall how it can hurt. He’s a young actor to watch.”  –Off-Off Online

“The youthful Peter Atkinson is outstanding as Richard and is the production’s centerpiece. Mr. Atkinson’s animated intensity, comic timing, slightly croaky voice and sense of depth capture the adolescent bravado of an all American boy of yesteryear…Admirers should be charmed by this lovely revival.” –Theaterscene.net

“I laughed and I cried – it’s healthy and delightful! This production makes a convincing case for its old-fashioned virtues and Ah Wilderness! surrounds you with love on Bleecker Street…Do yourself a favor and see this run of Ah, Wilderness!” –National Review

“Reminds us of our past so that we might progress to a more enlightened future…Atkinson gives a captivating performance.” –Theatre is Easy

Also my first time back to the Sheen Center since last January for the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture’s Vita Institute seminar.