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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 31 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 05
Review of A Great Wilderness
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Review of A Great Wilderness

by Paul Torres - SGN Contributing Writer

A GREAT WILDERNESS
SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
Through February 16


The focus of A Great Wilderness, a world premiere by Samuel D. Hunter, is not the vast expanse of mountains and woods of its Idaho setting, but something more internal: that vast expanse of emotions and hopes of our lives. The tangible wilderness of the natural surroundings in the play presents itself as perilous and doom-laden. The woods outside are choking the characters and a forest fire does not make matters any better. It surrounds the quiet and dull cabin owned by Walt, an addled and flustered well-worn gentleman. (Scott Bradley's scene design deserves a nod.)

Walt runs a program in his rustic cabin that provides a safe place for young men struggling with being Gay. Walt, played by an excellent Michael Winters, is a deeply committed and spiritual man. He truly wants the best for the 'boys' who come to his cabin. As the story begins, Walt is packing his belongings because he has to move to a retirement community. Packed-up boxes are strewn around the cabin as a representation of a life in major flux. He is waiting for his final client, Daniel.

Daniel, portrayed by Jack Taylor in his promising debut at Seattle Repertory, comes in timid and defensive. He is frightened and unsure of why he is even there. Walt, in full Santa Claus/grandfather mode, tries to allay the boy's fears. Walt's ex-wife, Abby (Christine Estabrook), and her husband Tim (R. Hamilton Wright), are also coming over to tidy up some affairs with Walt's move. When they do arrive, Walt is not there and they discuss the true circumstances of the cabin's future.

Finally, a harried and flustered Walt enters and greets his old friends. Young Daniel is not there and has been gone a few hours. Daniel is lost in the wilderness. Much to his frustration, Walt cannot even remember Daniel's final words to him right before he left. Fearing the worst, they all decide to search for him. The search provides the perfect time for Hunter's story to reveal the character's inner-lives, that primitive forest of dark and light inside of us all.

Later, Daniel's somewhat apathetic and resigned mother, Eunice (Mari Nelson), arrives because she received a distressing text from her son. She is doubtful of her son's survival skills. It is in these acts where the characters discuss, with the help of some alcohol, their own not so trouble-free lives.

To break the tension of impending physical and moral doom, Forest Ranger Janet, arrives at the cabin to assist with the search efforts. Janet (Gretchen Krich) provides a welcome levity to these acts. She is a woods-stomping, down- to-earth woman who is confident that Daniel will be found.

Even in the wilderness, nothing is safe from the carefree comforts that we enjoy. All is bare and ready to be attacked or burnt up any moment. Director Braden Abraham's use of the subject of humanizing Gay conversion counselors is a breath of fresh air for all the challenges it imposes onto the audience. The tidy performances guide us into personal depths of hopelessness and then to some glimmer of survival. This is by no means a gloomy story, but it is more like a parable told around a campfire for adults. The complexities of Christian Gay conversion therapy are difficult enough in everyday language and A Great Wilderness offers its side of the issue in a cozy and warm rustic setting. It is within this intimacy that we see a remarkable production.

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