"Next Fall" is an extremely disorienting play about orientation -- sexual, religious, and otherwise -- that will leave you wondering "When is now?", "Who is gay?", and "What is religion?".
As human beings, we crave security. We want to be able to define who we are and ally ourselves with both people and places. "I am gay. I am from Virginia. I am Jewish."
We want to know whom we can rely on and we want to know that they aren’t going anywhere. We want to know there is a place we can call home. And we don’t want anything to change or, worse, disappear.
"Next Fall" is all about having the ground shaken, the rug pulled out from under us, the questions rephrased, reposed, and answered. It’s about love and life and death and God.
The central character, Luke, is gay. He is also a conservative Christian. Adam is gay. He is also an atheist. Arlene and Butch are Luke’s parents and, let’s just say, the apple doesn’t fall from the tree, (in more ways than one.)
Luke and Adam are dating. They live together, in fact. But Luke is not out to his parents and longs for Adam to accept Christ. Somehow the two manage their differences. But then Luke has an accident that lands him in the hospital in a coma and, suddenly, everything that everyone so strongly believed in and, even more crucially, clung to for dear life, begins to get a little fuzzy.
The timeline is an interesting one as it begins after the accident when Luke is already in the hospital, and then continues to switch back and forth between the past and the present, working its way carefully from then to now.
Dallas Theater Center’s production elegantly handles the shifts in time with virtually no change in scene and actors moving from then to now and now to then without so much as a hiccup, leaving and entering the stage without pause and moving across time as they move across the set.
Luke himself even rises from his hospital bed and takes off his hospital gown, speaking his lines for the next scene (one from the past, of course) without so much as a pause from the scene that has abruptly ended (from the present).
It’s fascinating. It’s also terrifying. But, most of all, it is real. Life doesn’t stop. It’s always changing. And there is no going back to change what was no matter how desperately we want to in an effort to change what is.
It seems impossible that a conservative Christian and an atheist could have any sort of long term relationship, especially when that conservative Christian isn’t out to his family. But somehow they do it.
How, you ask? Because the desire to love and be loved wins when one is true to that love. Luke and Adam love one another too much to allow something that, despite their protests, is ultimately meaningless in the face of true love.
Could either them admit that? Not a chance. Could we? Not likely. But the proof is in the pudding. And they were dating, therefore their faith -- or lack thereof -- could only be so important. If it was more so, why didn’t Luke leave?
The tragedy of the play is that it takes tragedy to extract the truth. Butch, Luke’s dad, is a desperate homophobe and, if current research serves to be true (as I am completely sure it will), he is also a sadly closeted and self-loathing gay man. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, April 2012)
I both pity and hate Butch throughout the show. But by the end, without giving anything away, only pity remains. It is life’s greatest crime that only when something horrible happens can we let go of our hate.
The cast of the Dallas Theater Center’s production of "Next Fall" is nothing short of brilliant. The tenderness between Adam, played by Terry Martin, and Luke, played by Steven Michael Walters, is palpable from the moment they meet.
Their performances are so raw as if to make it difficult to watch throughout and to make the ending almost unbearable. If it’s only a play, why do we weep? It is because, clearly, it is not just a play in the hands of a cast such as this. Far from it.
Candy Buckley, who plays Luke’s mother Arlene, appears as if she was born on a stage. I have never seen such a painful part played more naturally. The tortured life that Butch has clearly led, juggling faith and fear, is played with liquid clarity by Kieran Connolly.
Lee Trull plays Brandon, an old roommate of Luke’s who believes that having sex with men is fine, but having loving relationships with them is an unforgiveable sin. His pain and angst and, yes I believe confusion, is almost impossible to sit with.
Lynn Blackburn, who plays Luke’s friend Holly, is adeptly skilled at balancing the wreck of emotions this play presents and all of the characters that portray them. She, in some ways, is a tether for these beings longing for nothing more than love and acceptance and yet battling it vehemently nonetheless.
This is a show to see. The script is an all too pertinent one and Dallas Theater Center’s production from lights to sound to costumes to set to direction to cast is, quite simply, brilliant. This is a difficult show and too many will not see themselves in it though they are there. But those who do will leave changed.
And, as for the answers to my initial three questions: "It’s already passed," "They who doth protest too much," and "A construct that has a bad habit of doing more harm than good."
"Next Fall" runs through May 6 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard. For info or tickets visit http://www.dallastheatercenter.org/show_details.php?sid=45.