Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Next Fall: New Style Family Life Up Close and Personal
Next Fall begins in a difficult present. The setting is the ICU of Beth Israel Hospital. Having been severely brain injured in an auto accident while a passenger in a taxicab, Luke is in a coma which he is unlikely to survive. Over the course of its two acts, the action of Next Fall alternates between a depiction of the five-year partnership of Luke and Adam, and the unfolding of their current grim situation at Beth Israel. Each strain of the storytelling is presented chronologically, and Nauffts' structure is dramatically felicitous and clearly defined.
Luke is an aspiring young actor, originally from Tallahassee, a fundamentalist Christian who supports himself as a "cater-waiter" and hires on as a clerk in a candle shop (Holly, the shop owner, describes the appurtenances which the shop sells as "chachkas"). The 40-year-old Adam is an acerbic, counter-culture type underachiever who leaves his position there, having finally gotten a more suitable job as a high school teacher.
Luke has kept his sexuality secret from his divorced parents who regard Adam as his roommate. Adam, Luke's parents (Butch and Arlene), candle shop proprietor Holly, and Luke's former lover, Brandon share the hospital ICU watch. As expected, the principal issue is Adam's desire to play a principal role in decisions regarding his partner and the pain of being treated as an outsider by Luke's parents and consequently by physicians and hospital staff. Thus, the central issues, along with the preordained knowledge of where our sympathies lie, are never in question. There are also oft seen scenes, such as Luke and Adam feuding as they "de-gay" their apartment for a visit from Butch.
What makes Next Fall fresh and alive is the richness of the quirky detail of the characters and relationships which Nauffts has created. Luke tenaciously holds on to his fundamentalist beliefs. To the chagrin of Adam, Luke prays after engaging in sex. He is clearly guilt ridden, and Adam is the fulfillment of his conflicting needs to be told that his sexuality is slam dunk okay, and to be punished for it, in this situation, with cruelly contemptuous remarks. Adam is no longer able to heap the contempt which feeds his sense of superiority on those who have settled for the obligations and benefits of a confining government or corporate job. However, in Luke, he has found an easy outlet for it in the religious faith of the inarticulate and insecure Luke.
Particularly gripping is Butch. Ostensively, unaware of his son's sexuality, Butch makes suggestive, on the verge of hateful remarks which make it impossible for Luke to reveal his sexuality to him. Although it is never actually stated, it is increasingly obvious that Butch, aware and contemptuous of his son's proclivities, has chosen to torture the son who disgusts him by forcing him to squirm and lie, and live in fear of him. Rick Delaney in a brilliant performance makes us go from disliking him with his discomforting smarmy Rick Perry-like smile and mannerisms to eventually hating him as he intentionally tightens the screws on his son, and then attempts to do the same to both Adam and ex-wife, Arlene.
Jason Szamreta displays the extreme terror which can accompany the fear of being outed, in a performance that is both moving and painful to watch. Scott McGowan avoids being overbearing in his disdain for Luke's fundamentalism which makes his in the present frustration in dealing with Butch all the more touching. Harriet Trangucci lends her usual verisimilitude to the weak and beaten down Arlene who eventually girds herself to stand up for what's right. Jessica O'Hara Baker as self described "fag hag" Holly nicely projects the aura of someone whose best people skill is in being a reliable friend. Kevin Sebastian in the undeveloped role of Brandon projects a quiet, troubled decency that suggests why Luke was ripe for a new relationship.
While there is solid humor in director Laura Ekstrand's production, the emphasis is much more on drama than comedy, which by account of the Broadway reviews gives Next Fall a different texture than it had on Broadway. Ekstrand has brought a great amount of detail and depth to Dreamcatcher's engrossing and moving Next Fall.
It is notable that Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre regularly brings recent high quality, high profile, Off-Broadway and Broadway plays to its very intimate, comfortable theatre where they are performed by its outstanding Equity company at a fraction of New York ticket prices.
Next Fall continues performances (Evenings: Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Sunday 2 pm) through November 13, 2011 at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Company, Baird Cultural Center in Meadowland Park, 5 Mead Street, South Orange, New Jersey 07079. Box Office: (Brown Paper Tickets) 1-800-838-3006; online: www.dreamcatcherrep.org. Theatre: 973-378-7754 ext. 2228.
Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts; directed by Laura Ekstrand