Who would want to leave the warmth of home to head out into the dark of a winter’s night to see a play?
Sometimes you pray for a witty, provocative and insightful evening of theater to make the effort of donning the woolens worthwhile. Sometimes prayers get answered, as with Curtain Call’s latest production, Geoffrey Naufft’s “Next Fall,” a modern play about love and faith. Bundle up and venture out — it is not to be missed.
“Next Fall” examines the nature and complexities of modern relationships as they wander through a painful passage. Drop the issues of religion and faith into the storyline and it sounds like a soap opera about a bunch of people trapped in a crisis during a presidential campaign. Naufft’s play is nothing like that at all.
Moving between the present day and flashbacks, the play chronicles a four-year relationship between 40-year-old atheist Adam (Kris Anderson) and his 20-something boyfriend, Luke (Patrick Rooney), a conservative Christian. The play opens with Luke in a coma as a result of an accident, and Adam is left in the waiting room with Luke’s parents, hippy-dippy Arlene (Carol Max) and fundamentalist Butch (David Orr); both appear to have cast a blind eye on their son’s sexuality. Also present on death watch is Luke’s boyhood chum Brandon (Jed Krivsky) and Adam’s faithful support Holly (Joanna Palladino).
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, Latham
WHEN: Through Feb. 11
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 518-877-7529 or www.curtaincalltheatre.com
As Luke prays before every meal and after every sexual encounter, Adam puzzles over Luke’s approach to his blind faith. How can Luke reconcile who he is with what he believes? How can he love Adam when he is told that this relationship is wrong? The playwright gingerly sidesteps controversy and arguments tinged with Bible verse and vitriol by focusing smaller — where it counts — on the human level. Naufft has not penned a “gay” play or one that creates heroes and villains. It’s an honest and funny study of human interaction.
No matter how good the script is, it would lie flat and comatose without good actors, and this production is chock full of talent. Deftly and smartly guided by Chris Foster’s insightful direction, the cast sparkles, keeping the focus clear and the humor crisp.
As the Bible-thumping dad and the pill-popping mom, Orr and Max balance the bumble and bluster with moments of genuine loss and grief. Krivisky artfully keeps Brandon a silent cipher until he discloses his secret. Rooney manages to keep Luke sunny, warm and human without turning him into an Onward Christian Soldier.
As employer, friend and soulmate, Palladino’s Holly offers a perfectly played sounding board and cattle prod to Anderson’s nebbishy Adam. The scenes between the two crackle and spark, a friendship seething with love and frustration.
Whether dodging a hurtful barb from Adam or delivering one in return, Palladino finds all of Holly’s compassion and fire and then some. Conversely, the actress finds each and every moment of compassion with precision — and her retelling of the meaning of Wilder’s “Our Town” is spot-on devastating.
Naufft crowds act two with mini monologues that threaten to stall the story’s momentum. Foster wisely steers his cast toward the honest simple delivery of these tiny reveals. The matter-of-fact presentation completely disquiets — and that’s just perfect — maintaining a true emotional core. Max scores as she reveals to Anderson a memory of running away from her son as he offers her a comfort and understanding that she is incapable of accepting.
But don’t just watch Max — watch Anderson. As he listens to her reflection, he silently discovers answers and comfort to his own questions with her revelations. It’s a wonderful moment.
As a matter of fact, Anderson is flat out wonderful. Balancing the flip with anguish, he manages to make it look so easy, while it is nothing but hard. It is a flawless performance.
There is a blip, tiny but glaring. The setting by Caroline Mraz, while clever and functional, is less than attractive, allowing the bleakness of the hospital to creep back and overwhelm the happy moments of memory that cry out for color.
“Next Fall” is reassuring. It’s well-crafted, warm, witty and contemporary. It tackles with grace, without pandering to either faction, the issue of faith in modern times. It’s a good play — I’m a believer.
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