Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Next Fall"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth


"Next Fall"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

Arlington native Geoffrey Nauffts is a man of gentle nature, sensitivity, humility, and immense talent. He has successfully embraced all aspects of theater, from acting on TV, stage and movies, to directing and forming a New York theater company, Naked Angels, which he helmed for 23 years. He has written scripts for movies and TV hit series, “Brothers and Sisters,” among others, and accomplished much more.

“Next Fall,” his celebrated play that opened off-Broadway in 2009 and on Broadway in 2010, was nominated for 2010 Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Direction, won an Outer Critics Circle Award in 2010 and a 2008 Theatre Visions Fund Award. He also copped an endorsement from Elton John and life partner, David Furnish, who helped “Next Fall” get to Broadway. Nauffts is writing a score for the couple’s latest movie project.

Last Sunday, while watching “Next Fall” performed at SpeakEasy Stage Company, Nauffts was deeply moved and praised the actors and Director Scott Edmiston during the post-show talkback. Nauffts said he was leaving Boston on Monday to fly to Los Angeles, where he’ll portray Adam, a key, conflicted character whose personality traits mirror some of his own, and whom he previously portrayed in New York. He questioned whether he can top Will McGarrahan’s sterling performance in the role.

We don’t blame him. The entire Boston star-studded cast is superlative, adding depth, dimension and clout to Nauffts’ complex characters.

This isn’t another play about two gays’ romantic relationship. It’s much more. Nauffts said he was concerned about the passage of Prop. 8 in California, to give gays the right to marry, but that’s a small slice of his pie here. Nauffts also tackles the question of organized religion vs. agnosticism or atheism and its importance in one’s life. Having grown up without religion, Nauffts said he always felt something was missing in his life. Then, too, he tackles fundamentalist Christianity’s anti-homosexuality viewpoint with inquisitiveness and grace.

And he sets this scenario in a hospital waiting room, where family and friends are waiting for word- any word - from doctors, about their beloved Luke, a young, still-closeted gay Christian evangelist who was hit by a taxicab on a New York sidewalk and is in intensive care, clinging to life.

The play spans five years, shifting from the present to flashbacks, spooling out key moments that connect each person together. Janie E. Howland’s set easily shifts from hospital scenes to the guys’ apartment and a rooftop party scene, while Karen Perlow’s lighting adds emotional atmosphere.

Handsome Dan Roach as Luke, the twentysomething waiter and aspiring actor, is fantastic. He captures Luke’s sensitivity and loving warmth for people, his Christian devotion, and desire to please his macho dad, Butch, by hiding his homosexuality. Robert Walsh is superbly blustery as Butch during gut-wrenching, life-altering scenes.

During flashbacks, when Luke initially meets Adam, an older, atheistic hypochondriac, and the two fall in love, Luke’s mission in life is to save Adam’s soul by trying to convince him to believe in Jesus. Although every scene is moving, the two are outstanding when they argue about who will and won’t be saved in the hereafter - for example, Adam cites gay Matthew Shepard’s senseless murder at the hands of his Christian tormentors.

Amelia Broome as Luke’s flawed, flaky mother, Arlene, is pivotal, as she tries to hold visitors together emotionally. She tells Adam about her flamboyant past, abandoning Butch and Luke twice. She is trying to redeem herself --- which she does brilliantly. Dee Martin as Holly, Luke and Adam’s erstwhile Christian friend and candle shop employer, and Kevin Kaine as Luke’s closeted former Christian lover, Brandon, provide comic relief and dramatic punch. The effectiveness of Nauffts’ two-act play doesn’t stop when the curtain falls. He tackles many issues and attitudes with one swift swish of his pen that leaves audiences talking, wondering, rethinking about and appreciating his eloquence.

BOX INFO: Two-act play written by Geoffrey Nauffts, appearing with SpeakEasy Stage Company through Oct. 15, at the Roberts Studio Theatre, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets: $50,$55; seniors, $45,$50; under 25 years old, $25; student rush, $14 with college ID an hour before curtain, if availabie, at the Box Office. Call 617-933-8600 or visit www.BostonTheatreScene.com.

"Next Fall" (16 September - 15 October)
SPEAKEASY STAGE COMPANY
@ Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1(617)482-3280

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