“A Great Wilderness” at WTF: A Story About Evangelicals Who Think They Can “Pray the Gay Away” [Berkshire on Stage]

From left: Mia Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn, Tasha Lawrence and Kevin Geer. (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

From left: Mia Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn, Tasha Lawrence and Kevin Geer (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: If the purpose of this play is to evoke a visceral reaction, it has succeeded beyond the playwright’s wildest dreams. I hated it.

In the program notes, playwright Samuel D. Hunter prepares us for A Great Wilderness by revealing that “I wasn’t completely sure I even wanted to write the play.” As a gay man who just saw it I would like to state, gently, that I am not sure I really wanted to see the play, either, Sam.

Still you have to give points to the Williamstown Theatre Festival for having the audacity to undertake it. WTF has a real passion for exploring the human condition, so it fits right in with their dramatic profile, focusing more on the people than the issues as a way of trying to understand them.

Gail M. Burns: I wanted to see it. I find the question of “curing” or “fixing” LGBT people as abhorrent as you, and I don’t understand the mindset that finds it not only a rational idea, but a necessary one. I came away with a better understanding of the fundamentalist Christian worldview.

Larry: To be clear, the play is about the characters, not the issues, and at the center of this gang of evangelical Christians is Walt (Jeffrey DeMunn) whose opening lines were said softly so as not to alarm Daniel (Steven Amenta). The young man, who got caught looking at gay porn on the computer, was unceremoniously shipped off to Walt to get the gay out of him, and was very soft-spoken as well. At intermission, I heard some people commenting they could barely make out their initial conversations, so I was relieved it wasn’t just me.

Director Eric Ting strived for realism in the dialogue, an admirable choice, but did it so well he left much of the audience, many of whom are older ticket buyers, wondering what was actually being said as Walt tried to assure Daniel there would be no shock therapy, just prayer, conversation and the isolation of the woods where there were no signals for the teen’s smartphone.

Gail: Despite my own hearing loss, I am famous for being able to hear and understand every word spoken or sung on a stage – even when I can’t hear my own husband sitting next to me (usually something about washing the dishes) – but even my well-tempered ears strained to hear much of this play. I heard it, but it wasn’t easy! I would suggest that either the actors project or some area mics be employed.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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