Monday, May 16, 2016

"A Great Wilderness" by Samuel D. Hunter - Zeitgeist Stage Company Returns To Its Roots - Through May 21st

With the current production of Samuel D. Hunter's beautifully written "A Great Wilderness," David Miller and his Zeitgeist Stage Company return to familiar terrain.  For several years, this gritty fringe theatre company has pitched its tent on the sloping ground of tackling complex issues of sexuality and sexual identity.  This play about a place where young boys undergo conversion to hetereosexual orientation is right in the Zeitgeist wheelhouse.  And the production is flawless and deeply moving.

Mr. Hunter has created six complex characters that interact in kaleidoscopic ways.
  • Walt (A very moving Peter Brown) has been running a camp to try to help teenage boys deal with inappropriate impulses.  His motivation is to try to atone for the suicide of his son many years before.  He is slowly sinking into dementia, and his best friend and ex-wife have arranged for him to find a place in an appropriate home. As a favor to a frantic mother, he decides to take on one last camper as his swan song.
  • Abby (A sympathetic and exasperated Shelley Brown) is Walt's ex-wife, and she is now married to Tim.  Over the years, Abby and Tim have helped Walt to run the camp, but they are convinced he needs to be gently forced out of there.  She still carries guilt for the death of their son.
  • Tim (a steadying influence in times of crisis as portrayed by Thomas Grenon) is torn between his friendship with Walt and his need to support Abby in her decision that they will not keep the camp going after Walt's retirement, much to Walt's dismay.
  • Janet  (A perky, unflappable, and professionally aloof Park Ranger as portrayed by Kathy LaShay Berenson). After initially doubting Walt and his mission, she has become a friend, but now must step into a deteriorating situation once a crisis presents itself, and Walt is reluctant to make a panicked move.
  • Daniel (Jake Orozco-Herman) is a precociously fine young actor portraying a scared kid who has been forced to come to Walt's camp.  Unsure how to act as the lone "patient" at Walt's place, Daniel wonders off, gets lost and triggers a cascading series of troubling events.
  • Eunice (A distraught and eventually disgusted Christine Power), mother of Daniel who is fighting her fundamentalist husband on the one hand, and Walt on the other hand.  She wants action in finding Daniel; Walt wants to wait.
(L to R): Kathy LaShay Berenson, Shelley Brown, Peter Brown,
Jake Orozco-Herman, Thomas Grenon, and Christine Power
Zeitgeist Stage production of "A Great Wilderness"
(Photo by Joel W. Benjamin, Background by Fran Forman)
Through May 21st at Boston Center for the Arts
The playwright has managed to make each of these characters in some way sympathetic.  I may not have like each of them, but I cared deeply about their fate and what might befall them, as the action ratcheted up to heightened crisis.  The writing is brilliant at several levels.  Mr. Hunter's use of words to mean more than one thing grabbed me in the first moments of the play.  Daniel, who has been consigned to the camp so that Walt can "turn him around," enters the cabin apologizing for being late and getting lost: "I got turned around"!  Given the nature of the subject matter, it would have been very tempting for the playwright to set up straw dogs and caricatures of mindless fundamentalists out to force young boys to swallow the Bible and their interpretation of it unblinkingly.  The only character that is close to one-dimensional never appears on stage: Daniel's father, a pastor who has disowned his gay son. We know of him only through the eyes of Daniel and Eunice.  Every other character is layered with nuance and doubts and willingness to listen and process new information - even the now limited Walt begins to see things in a new light.

Mr. Miller has designed a wonderful set that evokes the remote Idaho wilderness.  Lighting by Michael Clark Wonson, Sound by J. Jumbelic and Costumes by Matthew Solomon help to evoke the deteriorating situation and the growing crisis.

(L to R): Thomas Grenon, Kathy LaShay Berenson, Peter Brown, 
Zeitgeist Stage production of "A Great Wilderness" 
(Photo by Joel W. Benjamin, Background by Fran Forman)
Through May 21st at Boston Center for the Arts
Mr. Hunter, well known for also writing "The Whale," has crafted a delicately balanced tale of souls seeking a variety of kinds of redemption and salvation.  David Miller's direction of this fine cast lives up to the excellent level of the writing.  This is a play worthy of your attention.

It plays through May 21st at Boston Center for the Arts.

Tickets for A Great Wilderness



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