In 2022, the Rogue Machine presents the Southern California premiere of A GREAT WILDERNESS, a controversial tale by Obie Award-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter. No one ever said that navigating the complexities of gay conversion therapy was easy, but Hunter has tried to make it gripping and fascinating. To quote Hunter,
“It’s sort of like a group of people who are clinging to the past. That dynamic, that tension, has always been really interesting to me. It’s also something I don’t see discussed a lot on our stages, which is curious just because we live in such a religious country.”
Walt (John Perrin Flynn) has devoted his life to “curing” gay teenage boys, boys who will hopefully go on to marry, have children, and lead exemplary Christian lives. But now Walt is getting to that point where he needs help himself in order to survive – a point in life where reluctant retirement and an assisted living facility beckon. In the midst of planning for his inevitable future, Walt decides to deal with just one more troubled teen named Daniel (Jeffrey Delfin) at his retreat in the middle of Nowhere, Idaho. When Daniel disappears after only a few hours, Walt is left in turmoil. Enter Walt’s ex-wife Abby (Rachel Sorsa) and her husband Tim (Tony Pasqualini) – the pair that Walt is sure will carry on his dream of turning gay youngsters’ lives around – and Janet (Tania Verafield), the park ranger tasked with finding the missing youth. When Eunice (Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield), Daniel’s distraught mother, shows up at the retreat, things will surely heat up and may well overwhelm Walt and cause him to question his personal and spiritual identity.
Skillfully helmed by director Elina de Santos, this long and sometimes rambling study of people in crisis unfolds like a multi-layered onion. The talented cast really dig deep into the complexities of the human spirit and the rocky moral terrain that a truly devout man like Walt faces as reality slams all of them in the face. For the wilderness is not so much about forests, mountains, and valleys – but rather about the tangled motivations, knotty conundrums, and complicated values and beliefs that the conflicted characters face. A GREAT WILDERNESS is a provocative piece whose aim seems focused on rocking the boat and offering more questions than answers. Perhaps author Hunter hopes that the issue of doing wrong for all the right reasons requires dissection, just as the possibility of good people ending up in bad places deserves further study.
While A GREAT WILDERNESS may not be Hunter’s best play, it is surely a thought-provoking study of average people faced with difficult decisions. At times, the chronology of the story is a bit jumbled, as are the fluctuating motives of the folks who find themselves in “the wilderness.” This writer also had problems with one of Hunter’s technical ploys – that of having two or three conversations going on at the same time. While he was probably aiming for chaos, the effect made it nearly impossible to follow the storyline and proved irritating. Nonetheless, this is a play which will keep your attention throughout and will likely cause you to have an internal dialog about the issues raised.
A GREAT WILDERNESS runs through October 31, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. There is no performance on October 10 and an added performance on Thursday, October 20, 2022. The Rogue Machine performs in the Matrix Theatre, located at 7657 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Tickets are $45 ($35 for seniors; $25 for students with proof; Pay-What-You-Can on Fridays 9/30/22 and 10/21/22). For information and reservations, call 855-585-5185 or go online.