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In "A Great Wildnerness", Falcon Explores Gay Conversion Therapy, Personal Journeys

A Great Wilderness, opening May 4 at Falcon Theatre, is about many things. But at its heart it’s about being lost and being found, about forgiveness and acceptance.

Its setting is unexpected – a gay conversion camp for teens, sparking the kind of challenging contemporary drama theatergoers love. Curtain Up describes it as “a group portrait of ordinary people dealing with the extraordinary problems life tosses their way.”

Walt is the gentle-natured leader of the Christian retreat who has devoted decades of his life to “curing” gay teens of their homosexuality. Packing up his life and preparing for a reluctant retirement, Walt is pressured into accepting one last client.

Veteran actor Allen Middleton plays Walt, and observes his character “spends much of the play recognizing and coming to terms with being lost on many levels: physically, mentally and fundamentally (relative to his life-long personal truths)."

“The thing that playwright Sam Hunter (recipient of a 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow) does so beautifully is to explore that without judgment or commentary so that the audience isn't distracted by what's 'right' or 'wrong' in understanding him," Middleton said. "By the end of the play, Walt has self-realization that could lead him to many different paths to being found.”

Caleb Farley is Walt’s last client Daniel, who disappears into the Idaho wilderness. What he loves about the play is “the idea of being lost and found can be applied to every character. Everyone has their personal journey. Daniel begins the play figuratively lost in a world that he believes doesn't understand him. It takes literally being lost in the woods to finally find clarity and accept his place in the world.”

Among the other characters are Arlene Borock-Balczo as Walt’s ex-wife and Holly Sauerbrunn as Daniel’s mother.

Borock-Balczo notes her character “hasn't been able to give forgiveness nor feel she's been forgiven, the pains of loss still penetrate her soul. She’s finally ready to put the past and all the pain behind her” but she needs Walt to meet her halfway at a moment when he’s lost his moral compass.

Sauerbrunn says, “While her son may be literally lost in the woods, Eunice is metaphorically lost in a world that no longer makes sense. She can't see any way to reconcile her beliefs with what she has come to understand about Daniel, and she doesn't see a way forward for either herself or her son.”

Director Clint Ibele has wanted to helm Wilderness since the first time he read the script. He’s intrigued by Daniel’s and Walt’s contrasting ages – “one with everything in front of him, and the other reaching the end of his life and coming to the realization he "could have been anything." And the two have something in common: “It's themes of discovering who you are, and then covering it up because it’s not the norm, of being afraid and confused by what society, your family and friends, tell you or expect of you. 

“Ultimately this show is about anyone who has ever felt lost or alone in their own wilderness and who hopefully find or will find their way home and become who they want to be.”

A Great Wilderness, May 4-19, Falcon Theatre. 636 Monmouth St., Newport. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Tickets $22, $15 students with ID. $5 off at Thursday performances. Information and reservations at falcontheater.net.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
Photo: Caleb Farley and Allen Middleton (Kristy Rucker/provided)