By Ruth Ross
When people ask me, "What's the big deal about local professional theater," my answer would be, "The poignant, passionate production New Jersey premiere of Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts now onstage at Dreamcatcher Rep in South Orange through November 13—that's what!"
I missed opening night due to a family engagement, but I am glad I got to see the play this past Saturday night as a member of a packed house of discerning theatergoers.
Next Fall explores the problems of interfaith marriage, but does so within a same-sex context. It tells the story of Adam and Luke, involved in a long-term relationship despite the fact that Luke is an evangelical Christian and Adam a nonbeliever. When Luke is involved in a serious car accident, his conservative parents arrive in New York from Tallahasee, Florida, and meet Adam for the first time. As the action hopscotches over the past five years to the present day, the characters struggle with themselves and each other as their spiritual convictions and love for one another collide.
Director Laura Ekstrand and six actors (three members of Dreamcatcher Rep resident acting company and three “guest” actors) will have you riveted to your seat as you watch the sometimes funny, often moving, tale unfold. That the six act as an ensemble makes for convincing and natural performances.
As the two lovers, Luke and Adam, Jason Szamreta (right) and Scott McGowan (left), respectively, turn in superb, polished and very convincing, sympathetic performances. Theirs is a May-December relationship, with Luke as a young, fresh-faced aspiring actor newly come to New York from Florida and Adam as a hypochondriacal 40-year-old salesman in a candle shop. The chemistry between the two actors is very believable, so much so that we ache for Adam when Luke refuses to tell his parents about their relationship and when Adam is not permitted into Luke's hospital room because he's "not family." Jessica O'Hara-Baker's Holly, Adam's "boss" at the candle shop, provides compassionate, and often droll, support to her friend, with whom she shares a lack of religious belief. The character of Brandon (below, right), played smoothly by Kevin Sebastian, provides an interesting "take" on same-sex relationships: he's gay, but does not support same-sex marriage.
Harriett Trangucci (below left) and Rick Delaney have the difficult roles of two rather unsympathetic characters, Luke's arch-conservative, Christian parents Arlene and Butch. Sporting deep Southern drawls, the two make very un-PC comments about Jewish doctors, Latino cab drivers and, of course, homosexuals. Trangucci's Arlene is especially annoying, as she talks incessantly and is generally clueless, but it is she who understands early the truth about her son's relationship with Adam. Delaney's Butch (left) is a real jerk for much of the play, either unknowing about Luke's sexual orientation or just in denial, which makes his reaction to his son's eventual death even more affecting. As he falls to the floor, sobbing, it is Adam who holds and comforts him.
Wesley Krantz has designed a set that serves as a hospital waiting room, Luke and Adam's apartment and several other locations, which are changed smoothly by the addition or subtraction of movable props. Jorge Arroyo's lighting suits each location very well, especially the fluorescent lights in the hospital. Michael Magnifico's sound adds to the verisimilitude of the play; the music he has chosen to play before the figurative curtain rises and during intermission is especially appropriate and haunting.
The title, Next Fall, is especially appropriate for the play's plot and themes. When Adam asks when Luke will tell his father he's gay, Luke says, "Next fall." Luke reconciles his homosexuality with his Christian religion by saying, "We are all sinners [i.e., fall] every day," but so long as he accepts Christ, he has a chance of salvation. And when the pious Butch literally falls to the floor after Luke has died, it is Adam who reassures him that Luke wasn't afraid to die because he was sure of going to Heaven where he will ultimately be joined by everyone he loved.
With Next Fall Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre adds another gem to its diadem of polished productions. Thanks to them for bringing this exceptional play to New Jersey for us to see and be moved by. Well done!
Next Fall will be performed at Dreamcatcher Rep's theater at The Baird 5 Mead Street, South Orange, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM through Sunday, November 13 at 2 PM. A performance on Thursday at 8 PM has been added to make up for the October 29 performance canceled by the snowstorm. Call now for tickets: 800.838.3006. They are going very fast.
Photos by Steve McIntyre.