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Port City Playhouse Next Fall

By • Mar 3rd, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts
Port City Playhouse: (Info) (Web)
Convergence, A Creative Community, Alexandria, VA
Through March 15th
2:15 with intermission
$18/$16 Seniors, Students, Military (Plus Fees)
Reviewed February 28th, 2014

“This play is just a story about two people who love each other very much. And although the story centers around a same-sex couple, the central theme is universal. Love is love.” wrote Rob Batarla in his Port City Playhouse program notes for Next Fall.

With Next Fall, Batarla has succeeded in presenting a contemporary, very earnest, heartfelt production about a partnership between Adam (an edgy Richard Issacs) and Luke (a gentle Fred Dechow). The play speaks to their life together including how each face some of their greatest fears both singly and as a couple. While ultimately a poignant tale, Next Fall is surrounded with ample comedy as it journeys to its conclusion.

Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, Next Fall received a 2010 Outer Critics Circle Award as Best New American Play and a Tony Award nomination for Best Play. Nauffts sets his tale in New York City in a five-year period during the mid-2000′s. He uses flashback and short scenes to bring out his main messages and themes.

As the play opens it is fall. We hear sound effects. We become aware that a traffic accident has happened. We soon learn that Luke is in a coma. Luke’s friends and parents begin to gather in the waiting room of a NYC hospital. The people include long-time friend Holly (Susanne Martin), owner of a candle shop; Brandon (Andy De) another friend or perhaps something more; Luke’s overly spirited, animated talker of a mother Arlene (Gayle Nichols-Grimes) who has been long divorced from but still squabbling with ex-husband Butch (Cal Whitehurst). Arriving as well is Adam.

There is plenty of tension and discomfort in the waiting room well beyond Luke’s condition. Adam cannot visit Luke in his hospital room; he is not considered family. Luke’s parents do not seem to be aware that their son and Adam are a couple. They don’t seem to know their son is gay.

Flashback five years: Adam and Luke meet cute at a party. The then mid-30′s Adam has had a panic attack. The 20-ish Luke has rescued him. They begin to reveal pieces of themselves; they become smitten with each other.

As scenes move forward and back, we become aware that Luke is an aspiring actor with his career looking up after a stint as a waiter and working in Holly’s candle shop. Adam, who also has worked for Holly, is a hypochondriac with plenty of self-esteem issues. While a couple, there are some deep fissures in their relationship. Luke is gay and a deeply religious man. He has been unable to “come out” to his parents. Luke prays before a meal and after sex. Adam is aggressively sarcastic and unsympathetic to Luke’s religious views. Adam frequently battles with Luke about his faith in Jesus and an afterlife. “How can you be gay and Christian?” is one of Adam’s customary questions to Luke. The question is not meant for a response. It is given an accusatory tone.

As Luke’s life hangs by a thread, his friends and family members allow themselves to become vulnerable. Their failings and insecurities become clear. Faith takes on very central meanings for each, even Adam.

The ensemble of actors is in sync. They hit their marks. A shout out goes to Nichols-Grimes as the initially highly-spirited, boisterous, almost vulgar, ex-wife and mother Alice. Her characterization of a woman trying to hide her failings is quite effective. She steers smoothly from rowdiness to presenting a motherly tenderness. Her face softens, her gestures grow smaller, her voice drops into a lower power.

Whitehurst gives his Butch a contained physical belligerence while his manner of speaking has a spitting meanness to it. His acting fits what his character is meant to be. But at the end, he becomes a subdued father broken-down at his loss, his eyes misty.

Martin’s Holly is comfortable in her self-described role as a “fag hag.” It is Martin who sums up much of the trajectory of Next Fall when she quietly speaks of the transience of life and importance of friendship. De’s Brandon is a self-contained cipher with little affect but for a sullen, uncomfortable presence.

There is a note to raise about the Issacs and DeChow presentations as a couple. They seem more like room-mates than partners, even when alone together in their apartment at the beginnings of their relationship. We know they care for each other, but the connections seem tentative except for one critical scene of total devotion and tenderness.

The Port City Playhouse set design by Batarla is utilitarian. It serves its purpose. The set has two levels on the stage that serve as both a hospital waiting room and lower Manhattan apartment through flashback scenes. There is a couch with side chairs on one level and at the rear a step higher is a small kitchen table with chairs. The central aisle on the theater floor is also used for one scene. This particular scene left a well-deserved deep hush from the audience, it was that intimate.

Shifts in time and place are clearly denoted by brown-outs and projections. The projections are of Adam and Luke just being together in a park. The sound design bridges scenes with contemporary pop music such as Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” As events progress the tunes become more restrained, ending with a plaintive U2.

Next Fall grapples with many weighty issues, often with a comic touch. Some of the scripted arguments and verbal battles seem a bit too contrived. They can come off like a blunt instrument. With that said, over time, we as the audience invest ourselves in the characters because they are likeable. The play’s conclusion brings a fitting quiet from audience. The well-earned applause takes time to begin; then it is sustained. The actors take their bow looking spent. They had given all of themselves for the audience.

Note: Next Fall is recommended for age 15 and above as it contains strong language and mature themes.

Photo Gallery

Brandon (Andy De), Arlene (Gayle N. Grimes) and Holly (Suzanne Martin) Luke (Fred Dechow), Adam (Richard Isaacs), and Holly (Suzanne Martin)
Brandon (Andy De), Arlene (Gayle N. Grimes) and Holly (Suzanne Martin)
Luke (Fred Dechow), Adam (Richard Isaacs), and Holly (Suzanne Martin)
Arlene (Gayle N. Grimes) and Butch (Cal Whitehurst)
Arlene (Gayle N. Grimes) and Butch (Cal Whitehurst)

Photos by Michael deBlois

Cast

  • Adam: Richard Issacs
  • Luke: Frederick Dechow
  • Holly: Suzanne Martin
  • Brandon: Andy De
  • Arlene: Gayle Nichols-Grimes
  • Butch: Cal Whitehurst

Design and Production Team

  • Director, Set, Projection & Sound Design: Rob Batarla
  • Producer: Carol Strachan
  • Stage Manager: Kate Miller
  • Light Design: Nancy Owens
  • Set Dressing & Decoration: Readun de Alba
  • Costume Design: Ceci Albert
  • Properties & Painting Assistant: Jenni Patton
  • Chief Assistant Stage Manager: Joanna Schoenborn
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Larry Gray, Meg Hoover & Anne St. Jacques
  • Master Carpenter: David Correia
  • Master Electrician: Liz Owens
  • Set Painting: Becky Patton
  • Lighting Crew: David Correia, Rachel Lau, Michelle McBeth, Paul McGee, Kate Miller, Liz Owens, Nancy Owens, Bruce Schmid, Joanna Schoenborn, Dick Schwab & Carol Strachan
  • Set Construction: Rob Batarla, David Correia, Andy De, Fred Dechow, Richard Issacs, Bethany Latham, Paul McGee, Carol Strachan, Cal Whitehurst & Alan Wray
  • Costume Assistant: Lisa Brownsword
  • Slide Photographer: Matthew Randall
  • Sound Crew: David Corria, Meg Hoover, Rachel Lau & Sean McBeth
  • Projection Crew: Paul McGee

Disclaimer: Port City Playhouse provided a complimentary media ticket to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.

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