Wednesday, November 2, 2011
review - Next Fall
by Geoffrey Nauffts
directed by Sheryl Kaller
through December 4
Bound to create a plethora of discussion and lots of positive and negative opinions, Geoffrey Nauffts' Next Fall, now onstage at the Geffen Playhouse, despite its heavy handed religious themes, boasts a marvelous cast.
Some will inevitably question why Luke (James Wolk) and Adam (Nauffts) have managed to maintain a life partnership for a number of years. Luke is a Christian, who, like a newborn Christian, takes the beliefs and practices of the religion to extremes, making it the focal point of his life. Adam, an agnostic, finds difficulty in accepting how Luke can love God more than him, and such is the argument throughout the play. As the curtain rises, Luke is in hospital in a coma as a result of an accident and is at death's door. The play juts back and forth between the hospital and various places in the past few years covering Luke and Adam's relationship from their first meeting onward. What makes the play most interesting is how friends and family react to Luke's impending death and his relationship with Adam. Luke's parents Arlene (Lesley Ann Warren) and Butch (Jeff Fahey), now divorced, are Christian as well, with Butch unbending and Arlene more slightly prone to tolerance than her ex. Neither is totally accepting of homosexuality. Holly (Betsy Brandt) is a sweet caring friend to both Adam and Luke whereas Brandon (Ken Barnett) remains a mystery man until Act II where he exposes his beliefs as a bible toting homosexual who refuses to accept any kind of loving gay relationship. He does it with guys, but hates himself in the process. Sad to say, this type of man does exist adding deeper pain and confusion to the gay world. Coming to terms with Luke's death, his lifestyle and how each feels about his own association to these issues makes for a heavy, heavy evening with little humor to serve as comic relief.
Thank heavens for the ensemble, who, under Sheryl Kaller's meticulous direction, make the scenes absorbing.
Adam is a bundle of confusion, neurotic and negative at most turns, and Nauffts bravely essays him making one question exactly how much of the character is based on his own personal belief system. Warren is sheer delight in her lighter moments at the beginning and completely compelling in her grief-stricken catharsis toward play's end. Fahey as well gives a tough, yet heartbreaking performance. Brandt makes Holly every gay man's best friend. She is loyal and supportive to a fault, and Brandt adds great touches of humanity. Barnett lends Brandon, the most despicable character, whatever humanity he can. It is, next to Adam, the most difficult role to play. Wolk is a breath of fresh air, as he plays the up positive side of Luke, masking his deep-seated insecurities.
Next Fall is certainly intelligent and courageous theatre, but be aware that you may be at odds with and repelled by much of it. I don't feel the issues enlightened me, but it made me rehash old demons, and as a lesson in relationships, it deserves to be seen.
3++ out of 5 stars