Also see John's review of The Light in the Piazza
Set in New York City, Next Fall is the story of two gay men, Adam and Luke, in a long term, committed relationship. Luke (Josh Canfield), a handsome actor/catering waiter in his twenties, is a devout Christian. Adam (Tom Wahl), a slightly nebbish, hypochondriac in his forties, is a militant atheist. The play portrays the ups and downs of the unlikely couple's five-year relationship with sharp humor and unflinching honesty. Things come to a head when Luke is seriously injured in a car accident, and Adam turns to Luke's family and friends for support. Ironically Adam cannot ask for support or recognition from Luke's family in the way he might wish. The title is taken from a line in the play when Luke says he plans to reveal to his parents that he is gay"next fall". But "next fall" has never happened, and regrettably now that day may never come.
Nauffts' writing is delicately balanced. There are no arguments over Biblical passages, nor is Luke's denomination of faith ever mentioned. Political implications of same sex unions, or equal rights for same sex couples is not the issue at hand either. Luke simply believes in God. Though he sees homosexuality as a sin, he recognizes that we as humans are inclined to sin, but offered salvation upon the acceptance of Jesus as our savior. Adam understandably balks at the religious dictate that would allow that the killers of Matthew Shepard (the victim killed in a 1998 gay hate crime) could go to heaven if they accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, while Matthew Sheppard himself would not, unless he had chosen to believe. Luke laments that Adam's non belief means that he would not go to Heaven. Still, undue attempts to proselytize are avoided by Luke, and by the author. Instead, the spiritual difference between the two men exhibits itself as tension that prevents a complete emotional bond. A telling moment in the second act reveals the situation for what it is when Adam passionately says to Luke (in reference to God), "I want you to love me more than Him!" For Adam, God and Luke's religious beliefs exist between them like a troublesome ex-lover that can not be forgotten.
Next Fall marks the return of Michael Hall, the founder of Caldwell, as a guest director. Perhaps the stab at retirement has given him a fresh eye, as this production indeed has both sound pacing and nicely staged moments. One is aware that Dennis Bateman as Butch is wisely never staged to be physically threatening. The second act "back-cracking" scene between Adam (Wahl) and Luke (Canfield) on the couch smoothly moves from playfulness to conflict. There is a much needed extra beat given to a hug between Arlene (Nesbit) and Luke (Wahl) near the end of the play that feels just right.
The changing seasons are cleverly reflected in the falling leaves and changes in the set design. Original music by John Fitzgibbon enhances the moods of the scenes. Irene Adjan is enjoyable as the somewhat Bohemian friend Holly. One might wish for a closer look at the character of Luke's estranged friend Brandon played by Christopher A. Kent. Brandon sublimates his homosexuality with his religious beliefs to a point of denial just short of self loathing. It's no fault of the actor; the author just doesn't give it to the audience. Pat Nesbit is full of Southern charm as Luke's mother Arlene. Her acting and energy add real dimension to the character and help define the family unit. Dennis Bateman as Luke's father Butch is strong without being loutish. It is a difficult role to portray as it requires avoiding appearing to be belligerent while remaining convicted to his fundamental values.
Tom Wahl and Josh Canfield work handsomely together. There is just enough chemistry and just enough tension for us to see the differences yet root for their success as a couple. Canfield is sweet without being vapid or dim. Wahl is fussy and self-absorbed while still being funny and likeable. This incredibly well written story translates to all couples of differing faiths who have had to negotiate that which separates them. However, it is more pointed and more poignant when placed in the context of a same sex relationship in which the very act of physically expressing their mutual love is seen as sinful.
Next Fall will be appearing through March 27, 2011, at the Caldwell Theatre. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. The Caldwell Theatre Company is located in the Count De Hoernle Theatre at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida. Performance times are Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. For information and/or tickets you may contact them by phone at 561-241-7432 or online at www.caldwelltheatre.com.
*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.