BWW Reviews: Seattle Rep's A GREAT WILDERNESS Burns with Thoughtful Poetic Beauty
The absolutely stirring performances would have been enough. Even if the script for Seattle Rep's world premiere of "A Great Wilderness" were just so-so the ensemble cast knocking ball after ball out of the park would have been enough to make for an amazing evening. But when you add in the fact that this new script from one of the theater world's up and comers, Samuel D. Hunter, amounts to a subtle and gripping thing of beauty, you have an experience at the theater that you won't soon forget.
In the story Walt (Michael Winters) is packing up his belongings at his wilderness retreat where he has been counseling gay teenage boys for 20 years. He's retiring now but has agreed to take on one last client, Daniel (Jack Taylor). But when Walt's friends Abby and Tim (Christine Estabrook and R. Hamilton Wright) arrive to help Walt pack up they discover that Daniel has wandered off into the woods and Walt hasn't been able to find him for hours. And now amidst the search for the missing boy Walt, Tim and Abby along with Daniel's Mother Eunice (Mari Nelson) and Forest Ranger Janet (Gretchen Krich) go on an emotional roller coaster ride of harsh realities and a search for self.
It's not easy to sum up what the show is about. I mean you could say it's about gay conversion therapy but it's as much about conversion therapy as "August: Osage County" is about drug addiction. It's an underlying setting but it's really about the lives of these specific characters as they struggle with their own identities whether that be gay, straight or other. But what is clear is that the script is a powerhouse mélange of hard hitting topics, superior dialog, and a story that wraps itself around you and takes over your heart. Yes, you'll want to have the tissues handy for this one.
Director Braden Abraham has not only brought together a cast that can only be described as sublime but also once again shown off his ability to delve into the core of a story and its characters and emerge with a deep, meaningful and complex production. And the set from Scott Bradley and lights from L.B. Morse are gorgeous.
Winters takes on this role like a Pit Bull and never let's go. His portrayal of a man struggling with his identity even as the only life he has known is slowly slipping away is as moving and profound as it is seemingly effortless and real. And the arc of his character is a masterwork. Taylor turns in an engaging and thoughtful performance making his character completely honest and sympathetic. Estabrook takes what could be a one note comical caricature and breathed into it a complexity and depth that the character needs and is the perfect counterpart for Wright as the man just trying to keep it all together. Nelson's mother on The Edge could not be a lovelier and more heart-breaking experience. And Krich takes a smaller role on with gusto and manages to become almost the conscience of the piece.
As a theater geek it's always a thrill for me to walk out of a show knowing that I've just witnessed something truly remarkable. My regular readers know of my experience with the likes of "Equivocation" or "The Brothers Size" (also both from the Rep) and how they basically invaded my soul. Well they need to make room now for "A Great Wilderness". And as a world premiere, we here in Seattle are fortunate to be some of the first in the country to catch this beautiful and powerful new work before everyone else discovers its brilliance. With my three letter rating system I can only give this a WOW, which seems almost inadequate.