Play by Geoffrey Nauffts
Directed by: Scott Edmiston
Sets, Janie E. Howland. Lights, Karen Perlow. Costumes, Carlos Aguilar. Sound and original music, Dewey Dellay.
At: SpeakEasy Stage Company, Roberts Studio Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts. Through Oct. 15.
Tickets $50-$55, 617-933-8600
The SpeakEasy Theater Company’s first play of the season comes close to connecting all the dots in a layered production of Geoffrey Naufft’s "Next Fall".
It’s a sign of the evolution of cultural mores that a play featuring a homosexual relationship opens a major theater company’s season. The fact that Massachusetts was the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage has something to do with it. So does the increasing focus on same-sex relationships in mainstream television ("Modern Family" had five Emmy wins this year).
Luke (Dan Roach) is in a coma after being struck by a taxicab in New York City. In the hospital waiting room are Luke’s friends Holly (Deb Martin), Brandon (Kevin Kaine) and Luke’s divorced parents Butch (Robert Walsh) and Arlene (Amelia Broome).
Adam (Will McGarrahan), Luke’s lover and partner for the past four years, arrives and quietly seethes because “family only” are allowed in Luke’s room. Tension builds between Adam and Butch. Butch and Arlene are great examples of dysfunctional parents. Between Butch’s intensity and barely hidden rage and Arlene’s ditziness, there are no idle moments when they hit their marks onstage.
The scenes in which Adam and Luke (still painfully closeted to his parents) work out their differences give us insight into how love seems to be able to mix Adam’s oil to Luke’s water. McGarrahan's Adam is a marvelous mix of anxiety and intellectual curiosity. Watching him fidget and squirm while dealing with his manufactured mid-life crises is balanced by his relentless questioning of Luke’s religious faith and doctrine.
Photo: Luke (Dan Roach) and Adam (Will McGarrahan)
There’s no scarcity of themes. Let’s see: same-sex unions, the clash of religious beliefs in interfaith relationships (think of a conversation between a Christian believer and an atheist on the subject of "The Rapture"), monumental family dysfunction, and the power of love that keeps a relationship going in spite of complications.
Writer Geoffrey Naufft injects just enough humor to balance the heavy drama. He puts lines into Adam’s dialogue that would once be heard only in theaters in Provincetown and now give the straightest of spectators a good laugh. The crisp dialogue doesn’t have the fits and starts of everyday people trying to work out religious divides and it sometimes hammers didactically but it keeps us thinking.
The characters may be stereotyped portrayals but the ensemble cast plays them full out. By the end of the two-hour production, one spectator behind me is weeping softly.
Nauffts concept of rolling the play out in non-linear order is brilliant. The main set, center stage, is a waiting room in a hospital. The revolving sets to the left and right, unveiled to accommodate scenes then hidden with a curtain that reminds you of the ones used between beds in a hospital, are inventively constructed and fit the narrative structure that spans four years. It is fun piecing the story together bit by bit from the kaleidoscopic way Nauffts sequences it.
By the play's finale, there are more questions raised than answers given. And that’s a good thing. The last scene is a dandy that leaves us speculating, in effect making our own ending – or beginning. Between the powerful acting and the hot button issues, this is a play worth seeing.
Photo courtesy SpeakEasy Stage Company