Regional Reviews: Seattle
Next Fall at ACT Theatre
Also see David's review of Trails
The treasure trove of acting riches to be mined in the Puget Sound community is exemplified by the richly talented company of actors in ArtsWest's Seattle premiere production of Next Fall, the Tony Award nominated play by Geoffrey Nauffts. Nauffts wrote many episodes of ABC's quality family drama series "Brothers and Sisters," and his play is full of the same expert mixture of humor and pathos that made that show a sleeper hit. Because this sort of low-key, quality writing is happily commonplace on television now, theatregoers aren't as likely to shell out the $$$ to attend shows like this as they once did for plays by Lillian Hellman, William Inge and the like, but in the confident hands of director Cindy Bradder, and a uniformly strong cast, Next Fall is easily worth a trip to the theatre.
The play's central figures are Luke, a handsome young actor and staunch Christian Fundamentalist, and Adam, his late-forties partner, an out and proud atheist. The play opens in a hospital waiting room, where Adam, Luke's steely father Butch, his boisterous ex-wife Arlene, and two of the couple's friends Holly and Brandon await news of a comatose Luke's prognosis, post traffic accident. Luke has never come out to his family, so Adam and Luke's four year relationship is unknown to them, and Adam must bow to their decisions regarding his lover. The play flashes back and forth to significant moments in the couple's life together, and how they have coped with the differences between them. Holly is a self-acknowledged fag hag and has many of the play's quippiest lines, while Luke's friend Brandon is a super-repressed gay fundamentalist himself, who has sex with men but cannot commit to a loving gay relationship.
Christopher Zinovitch gives a bold, honest and wry performance as Adam, adding some unsympathetic edges to the character that we ultimately feel the most for. David Elwyn Traylor's Luke is onstage the least of the principal characters, but the actor succeeds in telling us all we need to know about the engaging young man who is struggling to balance his heart's desires with his Christian beliefs. Zinovitch and Taylor's comfort level portraying the troubled couple is palpable and moving. Patricia Haines-Ainsworth endows the eccentric Arlene with equal doses of heart and humor, while John Wray sees to it that we see cracks of compassion through Butch's unfeeling façade. Kate Witt's honesty and intensity keep her Holly well-clear of being a sitcom cliché friend, and Daniel Stoltenberg is amazing at showing us Brandon's loneliness and alienation, under his crisp, put-together appearance.
Scenic designer Burton Yuen accomplishes much with one set that, with minimal fuss, goes from hospital scenes to those set in Luke and Adam's apartment, complemented by an effective lighting design by Elizabeth Steele and attractive costuming by Stacey Derk.
Next Fall plays through April 6 at ArtsWest Playhouse, 4711 California Ave. S.W., Seattle; $10-$34.50 (206-938-0339 or www.artswest.org).
- David Edward Hughes