Falcon’s “A Great Wilderness” is Topical and Provocative

Review by Laurel Humes: A Great Wilderness: Falcon Theatre

Falcon Theatre closes its season with a drama about a hot-button topic ““ conversion therapy, or trying to change a person“™s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

Whoa. But before you stop reading, know that A Great Wilderness has no for/against opponents shouting at each other, no preachers quoting or misquoting the Bible. This is a quiet play, not without tension, but more about individual motivations.

Walt (Allen R. Middleton) has devoted his life to counseling teenage boys out of their homosexuality at his Idaho wilderness camp. His reason is soon revealed, and it is deeply personal.

Plans have been made for Walt to retire to an assisted living facility, mostly by his domineering ex-wife, Abby (Arlene Borock-Balczo), who fears he is slipping into dementia. Unknown to her, Walt takes on one more client, Daniel (Caleb Farley).

Even if you are opposed to Walt“™s mission, it is difficult to dislike him. Middleton“™s portrayal is of a gentle man. He“™s big, but rumpled and stooped; even the seat of his corduroy pants droops.

But Farley“™s Daniel is scared. What is going to happen? Will there be shock therapy? His parents haven“™t told him anything.

The first scene is just Walt trying to soothe Daniel, asking easy questions and really listening to the answers. But then ““ boom ““ Daniel goes out for a walk, disappears, other characters appear, and you start to question: What is this play really about?

Stick around for Act 2, much stronger and more compelling.

There is fine acting in A Great Wilderness. Middleton seems not to play Walt, but to embody the character, who is still suffering from personal tragedy 30 years ago and now ““ at this end of a career he made for himself ““ doubting his purpose. Farley, as Daniel, especially shines in a second-act near-monologue (sorry, that may be a spoiler).

Borock-Balczo portrays Abby as brisk and controlling, but still capable of sharing tears with Walt over the tragedy they shared. Holly Sauerbrunn is very good as Daniel“™s mother, conflicted between her love for her son and her husband, who has given up on him.

A Great Wilderness, ably directed by Clint Ibele, is sure to provoke post-show discussion. And that is a hallmark of good theater.

A Great Wilderness continues Thursday-Saturday through May 19 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.

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