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Carnett: The Fourth is No. 1 from sea to shining sea

July 02, 2012|By Jim Carnett

I love Independence Day.

And what better way to wax nostalgic about the holiday than read — or better yet, view — American playwright Eugene O'Neill's classic work, "Ah, Wilderness."

To me, the play reflects the essence of the Fourth of July: patriotism, freedom, family and home.

The play set in 1906 captures the coming of age of 17-year-old Richard Miller, son of a small-town Connecticut newspaper publisher. O'Neill also comments tangentially on the coming of age of this nation.

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"Ah, Wilderness" was the only comedy the dour playwright wrote, but it's significant. Critics have billed it a feel-good paean to a simpler era.

The year 1933, when the play was produced, could be considered a simpler era. Yet the storm clouds of Hitler's rise in Germany had already gathered ominously on the horizon. The next 12 years would prove catastrophic for the human race.

No era is simple.

Though innocence is threatened in O'Neill's play, he sees to it that innocence is preserved. "Ah, Wilderness" ends happily with a chaste kiss and a bright outlook for the future.

I first read the play as a 17-year-old and watched a production years later. I was a fan of the Broadway musical version of the show, "Take Me Along," produced in 1959, starring Jackie Gleason, Robert Morse and Walter Pidgeon.

The play spawned the films: "Ah, Wilderness" (1935) and "Summer Holiday" (1948).

Set in New London, Conn., on Independence Day, O'Neill's narrative portrays a far different world than the Orange County we know. Yet there are shared principles.

Over the years, I've discovered that the Fourth of July is the Fourth of July everywhere you travel in this land. Americans at every outpost are proud to be Americans.

I've spent the Fourth in O.C., Georgia, Maui, Washington state, New England and North Carolina. Sentiments of pride, gratitude and enthusiasm are common everywhere.

I've also been overseas for the Fourth, in Europe and Asia. Each time I returned to the states I felt as if I'd missed out on an important collective celebration.

My first observances of the holiday were as a small boy on Balboa Island. I remember waving sparklers while standing on the seawall and marveling at the colorful fireworks displays on the beach and across the bay.

For years, I attended wonderful local fireworks displays at Newport Dunes and the Huntington Beach Pier.

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