“A Great Wilderness” by Samuel D. Hunter at Seattle Repertory Theatre

What a fantastic set! The framework of an A-frame woodland haven rises up into the theatre rafters and out toward the audience. On its main floor are the somewhat seedy appliances and furniture you’d expect in a vacation camp, or in this case a conversion therapy center for homosexual boys whose Christian parents think they ought to be reprogrammed. The close-in forest enshrouds the building, sunlight flickering through the trees. It’s marvelous. Sadly Scott Bradley’s great set doesn’t save this predictable play with a message.

Walt (sensitively played by Michael Winters) uses this retreat as a “camp” for teenage boys whose parents have found out, much to their horror, that their sons are not as God intended them to be. For many of Walt’s charges, his facility is just one more stop along the reprogramming route that doesn’t work. But Walt is not only a kind and tender man; he knows from personal experience how hard it is to live a life that makes believe you’ve changed your sexual orientation. But through God’s help he’s living that life, and believes he’s helping the troubled young men, sent to him against their will, helps them to see that they too can get married and lead a “normal” life.

Into Walt’s program comes the glum Daniel (Jack Taylor), a boy who’s sick of these reprogramming camps, sick of his distressed parents who can’t accept him as he is. His disappearance from Walt’s woodland paradise leads to all kinds of angst but very little enlightenment. Walt’s former wife and her husband are there to ready Walt for his transition into an “old folks home” despite Walt’s objections. Daniel’s mother arrives worried for Daniel’s safety even more than for his sexual orientation. Throughout, the Forest Service ranger (the wonderfully calm and down-to-earth Gretchen Krich) tries to maintain equilibrium.
The acting is uniformly good but the script doesn’t allow the characters much growth or insight.

Through Feb. 16, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org)

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