A Great Wilderness tells the story of Walt, played by Michael Winters, who has spent his life counseling young boys out of their homosexuality at a remote summer camp in the woods. Walt is aging, and he is taking one last boy before moving into an assisted living home. This last boy, played by Jack Taylor, disappears, influencing the events that transpire during the rest of the show. This play features questions of aging, religion, and self-acceptance.
From the moment you walk into the theater, you are transported to a cabin in the woods. The set is so beautifully designed, with an amazing number of intricacies, that it is hard to pull yourself out of the play. The team at Seattle Repertory Theatre put good work into ensuring that the show was everything that it could be aesthetically.
Furthermore, this is a beautiful, extremely well-cast play. Every single actor seems to have a deep understanding of their character, and the work put into making the show believable and compelling is apparent throughout. Normally, I am kind of put off by an excessive amount of overly-dramatic moments (e.g., frequent crying and deep conversations) because I believe they can get old fast and can make the important moments less striking, but I found that the drama was done so well in this show that I wasn’t bothered by the number of head-in-hands, let’s-talk-about-death moments.
The cast is truly all-star, and I think that this group of actors could carry almost anything and do it well, but the writing is so good it could stand on its own as well. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter has written complex characters who are all but dull. I walked into this show expecting to see the story of a fanatic, hard-to-empathize-with, hyper-religious man whose entire life is dedicated to torturing away homosexuality. I imagined that this man would come to realize his wrong-doings with the help of a charismatic, intelligent young boy. This was not the case. Hunter writes characters who reject any and all stereotypes. They are not one-sided, black and white, or villains and heroes. I felt deeply for each character, and I came to understand each of their situations. This show does not feel like an attack on any belief system or group, nor did it seem to present an obvious moral. Rather it presents the audience with a question that is up to us to answer.
I highly recommend A Great Wilderness to anyone. I think that it serves as a good catalyst for conversation and is truly one of the most thought-provoking theater experiences that I’ve had in a while. Every element of the show stands out — from the set to the actors to the writing — so please, go and see all three.
A Great Wilderness
Seattle Repertory Theatre
January 17 - February 16