Through September 23|
A GREAT WILDERNESS Compass Performing Arts Center/Buffalo United Artists
Across the country, thousands of parents make an immediate decision if their child comes out as gay…they won’t allow it.
That’s why Walt (Michael Starzynski) has been sitting in a log cabin in the Rockies for 30 years, offering his services in “conversion therapy,” to return their child to the straight and narrow, in Samuel D. Hunter’s “A Great Wilderness.”
When this service opened, it was one of four similar facilities in the Pacific Northwest.
Now, his is the only one and Walt is shutting it down.
“Conversion Therapy” has been controversial for years and was the subject of a fight in Erie County, in 2018.
Supporters believe a young person is twisted because that young person is different from parents and needs to be brought back in line.
Walt is familiar with the issues because his own son committed suicide after coming out and Walt’s marriage to Abby (Diane DiBernardo) fell apart.
Even so, they started this program, taking over a former Boy Scout site adjacent to federal land,
Abby and her second husband Tim (Jon May) have persuaded Walt to shut down and sell the property, partly because he’s clearly undergoing mental stress and memory problems.
Unknown to them, Walt has taken on one last kid, Daniel (Jonathan Beckner) for his talk therapy, comforting the boy that he doesn’t use the electric shock treatment sometimes used in conversion therapy.
Daniel disappears and gradually a massive search starts up looking for Daniel.
Abby and Tim are soon there to make Walt’s breakdown even worse.
When Daniel finally returns, he gets into some serious talk with Walt, the purpose of this exercise.
Starzynski has been a fixture on the local theater scene for a long time.
This is the best performance I’ve ever seen from him, as this deteriorating, worn crusader looking into the sunset from his mountaintop eyrie.
There is a bad performance here, Kerry-Kate Abel’s hysterical role as Daniel’s mother, Eunice.
Beckner is weak.
Bill Baldwin contributes a woody log cabin set, a wonderful production.
Director Drew McCabe kept a strong hand on the show and its premise, something likely controversial in the theater community.
The lesson of recent years is that the cultural bases for plays have expanded, both in the problems being looked at and the personalities at the core, here Walt and his religion-based efforts to change a person to meet parental plans.
"A Great Wilderness is worth seeing, as this theater season cranks up.
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