A Great Wilderness

 

 “I Don’t Know if I Want to be Straight”

 Six months after Exodus International, an organization whose mission was to “help” gay Christians become straight, not only shut down, but issued an apology,  the world premiere of a play about the same subject, A Great Wilderness,  opened at Seattle Rep.  Playwright Samuel D. Hunter demonstrated genius by presenting evangelical Christian conversion therapy counselors compassionately.

 Setting the play in a remote conversion therapy center in darkest Idaho, the playwright cleverly depicts the generational differences between pre-Stonewall gays and gays who come of age nowadays.  Expertly played by Michael Winters, Walt is an elderly conversion therapy counselor, who begins to question his life’s work when his very last “patient” Daniel tells him “ I don’t know if I want to be straight”  Played by Jack Taylor, Daniel is the son of the most important Evangelical Preacher in the state, and although nervous and apprehensive about the conversion therapy he is being thrust into, initially, at least, has 21st Century attitudes towards his sexuality.   

In addition to questioning conversion therapy, this play also deals with the all too common issue of LGBT  teen  suicide.  Generally, coming out is difficult for teens.  On the easier end of the spectrum, there is Capitol Hill, Seattle, where kids born after 1990, have LBGT clubs in their schools, where they experience acceptance, support and hopefully do not contemplate suicide.  On the catastrophic end of the spectrum, are tight-knit religious fundamentalist communities in small towns where the plight of LGBT teens is dire indeed.  Although it may be changing, traditionally, LGBT youth have the highest rate of suicide of any other identifiable group of teenagers. 

 Using an intricate plot, the back-story of Walt’s life unfolds depicting the choices the older generation had when confronted with their homosexuality.  In those days, homosexuality was often a criminal offense, and could ruin one’s career.   For gays who were genuinely Christian, the choices were not pretty.  

 A nasty twist of fate led Walt to become a humane conversion therapist, at a time when  electro-shock treatment was used as a cure for homosexuality.    While living within the limitations of his milieu, Walt has done more good than harm by offering these boys an alternative to harsher varieties of conversion therapy.  

 The superb script was well matched by the production values.  Scott Bradley’s set, an A-frame cabin, set in the middle of a forest, made the audience feel both the serenity, as well as the danger of the outside environment intruding into the haven Walt has constructed.

 Excellently directed by Braden Abraham, the actors delivered the goods with subtle nuances, humanity and comic relief.   Abby and Tim, a couple who come to visit and have an oddly close relationship to Walt are played by Christine Estabrook and R. Hamilton Wright.   Daniel’s mother, Eunice is played by Mari Nelson, Janet the Forest Ranger is played by Gretchen Krich. 

 With all the brouhaha about Eastside Catholic’s firing a gay vice-principal for getting married, this play is very topical right now in Seattle; however, it is so well-written, well directed, well acted and in general so well-done that even if you are uninterested in the politics of conversion therapy you will find this play interesting.  That’s because it deals with some of the most basic of human emotions: compassion, suffering, love and acceptance.

 And it is full life-affirming humor.

A Great Wilderness:  Leo K Theatre.  Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center,  155 Mercer , Seattle 98109 Tues-Sun.   Jan. 17-Feb 16, 2014.  Box –Office (206) 443-2222 or toll free (877) 900-9285 www.seattlerep.org

 

 

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