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NEXT FALL

a Atlanta Premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Geoffrey Nauffts

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4212

SHOWING : January 12, 2012 - February 11, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Twentysomething Luke, who believes in God, is deeply in love with the slightly older Adam, who believes in everything but. When a tragic accident interrupts their perfect New York life, Adam must turn to Luke's friends and deeply religious family for support - and answers.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Kate Warner
Set Designer Seamus M. Bourne
Costume Designer Jamie Bullins
Props Design Kathy Manning
Lighting & Sound Design Joseph P. Monaghan III
Adam Mitchell Anderson
Brandon John Benzinger
Arlene Patti French
Holly Jennifer Levison
Butch Bill Murphey
Luke J. Joe Sykes
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REVIEWS

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This Day
by Dedalus
Monday, February 6, 2012
4.5
Geoffrey Nauffts’ “Next Fall” is many things. An emotionally-charged excursion into a five-year relationship, a family drama dealing with homosexuality, a conflict between facing what today holds and putting off critical decisions until “next fall,” a witty character study, a debate on religion, a whimsical study of the random nature of sudden death.

Before you dismiss this as “too much meat for one play,” let me say it is first and foremost the story of Adam and Luke, of their relationship, of their friends and families. All the other themes and motifs I cited above are merely facets of their lives, things folks discuss with friends and lovers and families over warm snacks and chilled wine.

Luke has been critically injured in a random Manhattan traffic accident, and the hospital waiting room is the gathering place for those whose lives he touched – his father Butch, his mother Arlene, his friends Brandon and Holly, and his “longtime companion” Adam. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the birth and lifespan of the relationship between Adam and Luke.

To say I could relate to this couple is an understatement. Adam is a forty-something nebbish, a hypochondriac trying to find his “purpose,” an atheist. Luke is a twenty-something actor, er, I mean waiter, a hot-looking “boy toy” who could have his pick of the Manhattan gay population, a born-again Christian. (The fact that this seeming oxymoron seems natural and unforced is just one of the measures of playwright Nauffts’ skill.) Why would I identify with such a relationship? Well, leaving aside the fact that I was a forty-something nebbish atheist when I met my lovely and talented spouse, a twenty-something knockout devout Catholic, not much. Needless to say, I found many of their discussions and arguments familiar, their resolutions natural, their continued relationship reassuring.

And that’s the crux of why this scenario works so well – Adam and Luke are deeply in love, and that gets them over and through all the “rough spots” the differing worldviews and generational paradigms put in their path. The one thing they really can’t get around is Luke’s refusal to “come out” to his father, a refusal he keeps promising to end “Next Fall” or some other elusively future time. Now that Luke is in a coma with no hope of survival, Adam is left in the cold, a stranger to Luke’s family.

The play is filled with tiny nuances and irony that made me smile with delight. I liked how playwright Nauffts avoids taking sides in the religion arguments, letting each character have their moments of triumph and aggravation, giving equal weight to Adam’s “seize the moment before it’s too late” preference and Luke’s “It’ll be better in heaven” optimism. I was when Luke discusses how Matthew Shepherd’s killers can achieve heaven, while Shepherd himself cannot. And I was amused at how devout father Luke “hides” from is himself a “serial monogamist,” separated from Luke’s mother for twenty years. These are six perfectly realized characters each carrying a full weight of back-story and attitude and eccentricity.

The wonderful ensemble, led by Mitchell Anderson’s quirky and soulful Adam and Joe Sykes’ charmingly charismatic Luke is tight and distinct – William S. Murphey brings to Butch (and don’t you just love the faux-macho splendor of that name?) a vulnerability that’s never at odds with his frequent explosions of cruelty and anger. Patricia French brings a bizarre talkativeness to Luke’s eccentric Mother (Arlene) that is funny without being grating or unrealistic. And John Benzinger and Jennifer Levison bring even more warmth to Luke’s friends, a not-so-faux family that has always been “there” for him.

Scenic Designer Seamus M. Bourne and director Kate Warmer have devised a three-quarter thrust playing space, in which the waiting room dominates. All the other scenes are played in the thrust area, using versatile “sofa cubes” to create the scenes. It makes for occasional awkward sight lines, but nothing that lasts too long or is too intrusive,

You may write off my praise of this piece as a bias influenced by the similarity between my own marriage and the Adam / Luke relationship. You may even be right to do so. But I have always maintained (and will continue to do so), that what we bring into a play as an audience member, can (and should) carry far more weight than any “objective” “list of standards” brought by critics who come to judge rather than to engage. To be blunt, I don’t believe in objective criticism. Writers who describe “guilty pleasures” or who pretend there are objective yardsticks that apply to every production are just being dishonest with themselves and with their readers.

Speaking of “what we bring” to a play, one of the audience members at the performance I saw chatted with me before the show, saying he had come directly from the funeral of his best friend (and he was dressed in black). During the climactic scene where we actually see Luke’s comatose body on stage, this man openly wept with sobs that could be heard throughout the theatre. Who am I to deny his reaction because he came to the show with “baggage?” Who are you to deny me the added intensity his weeping brought to this scene?

“Next Fall” is an emotionally moving, funny play about a relationship. It’s about two people who are able to squeeze a lifetime of companionship into five short years. Regarding the religious issues in play, I naturally fall on Adam’s side – if you keep putting something important off until “Next Fall,” what happens if you have seen your last autumn? Sure, you may be blissing out in the afterlife of your faith, but you’ve also left all your loved ones to pick up the pieces you’ve left behind.

Maybe I’ve just seen too many productions of “Rent,” lately, but, to my mind, there is no day but today. And, if that is true, think how wonderful that makes this day.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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