The Year of the Hunter — Samuel D. Hunter's A Great Wilderness and Rest Come to the Stage

By Evan Henerson
25 Jan 2014

Martin Benson

A Great Wilderness features a central character who firmly believes he has lived his life justly, despite much evidence to the contrary. Given its subject matter, Hunter expects the play to potentially ruffle the feathers of people on both sides of the conversion debate, but the playwright asserts he is "sort of uninterested in either side of the debate or even the debate itself."

Fundamentalist Christianity, he said, "sort of informs who I am and it informed my world view. I think it just gave me an insight into how one lives with fundamentalist beliefs in America in 2014, which is very interesting way to live right now — holding these sort of literal interpretations of the Bible in the present day. It's a very difficult thing to do and it just creates a lot of interesting tension for these people."

To some extent, A Great Wilderness continues the conversation begun in Hunter's Obie–award winning 2011 play A Bright New Boise. In Boise, Will, a former official in a now-disgraced church has relocated to Boise, where he has taken a job at a craft store called Hobby Lobby. Here Will tries both to connect with the son who he gave up for adoption as an infant and waits for the rapture which — despite the disbanding of his previous congregation — he still very much believes is coming.

A Bright New Boise had a boy named Daniel who lost his life in the wilderness ostensibly while under the protection of men of God. In A Great Wilderness a 16 year-old boy finds Walt. The boy's name is also Daniel.

"The dramatic clothesline of the play is that there's this kid lost out in the forest with the dramatic questions being, 'Where is this kid? Will he come back?'" said Hunter. "That crisis brings out in these other characters some of their most deeply held beliefs and puts them into question."

The intricacies and conflicting agendas of religion are other threads that run through Hunter's plays. The playwright grew up attending fundamentalist Christian schools, and, if the ever-questioning and often disgraced characters of his plays are any indication, he is still going to school.

"Ever since I started writing plays in college, I've been writing about religion and especially how fundamentalism and evangelical Christianity functions in a world that is increasingly becoming more modern and racing toward the future," the playwright said. "In A Great Wilderness, 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."