Presented by Zeitgeist Stage Company
Written by Samuel D. Hunter
Directed by David J. Miller
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) I’ve never understood how some people can believe that it’s acceptable to be drastically unkind to others because “God told (them) to.” God is a terrible excuse for being a bad person. Morality structured around a potentially imagined creator that lives in the sky is not stabilized morality. Yet, plenty of people are beholden to this creator, if there is one, for their good behavior.
In Zeitgeist’s A Great Wilderness the cast of characters is attempting to negotiate their flaws while living a good Christian lifestyle. They do ok. Walt (Peter Brown) is a gentle, compassionate counselor who runs an unusual gay reparative therapy camp in the mountains of Idaho. He guides new and sole camper Daniel (Jake Orozco-Herman) into embracing his “illness” as the cross Jesus chose for him to bear. To get used to his situation, Daniel takes a walk. Abby (Shelley Brown) and Tim (Thomas Grenon) are introduced as co-counselors but they are really at the cabin to help Walt pack up the camp. As they bicker, it becomes increasingly clear that Daniel has been gone for hours. Reluctant mother, Eunice (Christine Power) is notified. Level-headed forest ranger Janet (Kathy LaShay Berenson) is called in. Their faith in the most basic of notions falters (except for the bit about homosexuality being bad. Conveniently, that stays). Things get worse before they get better.
Peter Brown is heartbreaking as Walt. This is a character in the beginning stages of dementia. He knows that something isn’t quite right, can’t remember the way he used to. He refuses to admit defeat to dementia just as he refused to be defeated by potential deviance from the sexual norm in his youth. Brown is so careful to be loving in his role not just to Daniel but to everyone. He’s kind to the characters who don’t deserve his kindness because they are the people who need it most.
Shelley Brown and Thomas Grenon reminded me so much of my own uber-Catholic, kinda sorta liberal parents that I almost couldn’t stand it. I related almost too much. Their work in this play will give me much to brood over. My therapist thanks you.
Orozco-Herman has a lot of growing to do as an actor but he has real potential to become great.
David Miller’s set is both vibrant and homey. It looks lived in as well as loved. The sound design by J. Jumbelic is creepy. It sets the undertone of the play. Through his design, he lets us know little by little that there’s more wrong in the camp than just the obvious issues. The extra flamey lighting design by Michael Clark Wonson does the same.
A Great Wilderness is not about the strength of the human spirit. It’s not about people coming together to accomplish a greater good. It’s about a cast of characters doing the best that they can socially, spiritually and momentarily with what they have. What they have is shoddy logic and the convictions of their religious teachings. To be fair, at its best, religion can be a useful tool in coping with life. At its worst, it can incite unbridled bigotry, hate and violence.These characters fall somewhere in between with their application.
*Not that there is anything wrong with that. You do you, baby.