Florida Studio Theatre’s Mainstage production of “Next Fall” is an ambitious assemblage of highly flammable elements. The Tony Award-nominated play by actor-turned playwright Geoffrey Nauffs is a timely take on religious and social issues that are in the forefront of current political debate.
He employs the cinematic style of cutting between past and present to depict the complicated relationship between two gay men. The technique effectively reveals a central conflict in their past and a dramatic crisis in their present, which illustrates, respectively, broader “us versus them” divisions in religious and cultural norms. The dominant theme is basically that of science versus religion.
Do we, as a society, accept and grant equality under the law and in our minds to homosexuals as a natural phenomenon of DNA, equivalent to differences in gender or race, or do we condemn them and deny them equal rights and treatment, as do many religions, as a deliberate individual choice that flies in the face of nature?
Nauffs depicts this conflict by creating a homosexual couple, one who is a Bible-oriented Christian whose faith tells him that homosexual lovers are condemned to hell, but those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior are saved from this punishment. When one of the pair lies helpless in the hospital, cultural norms deny his spouse equality with regard to participating in his care.
This play, however, is not simply an intellectual polemic. It’s full of witticism and lively characterization, an often funny, heartfelt exploration of contemporary society’s newly expanded definition of family that celebrates the complete range of human emotion and frailty.
Perfectly paced, Kate Alexander’s direction wrests a maximum of emotion out of a minimum of New York apartment-cum-hospital-waiting-room set design by Michael Schweikardt.
Jason O’Connell is especially gratifying in his portrayal of the main character, Adam, an insecure, hypochondriac, Woody Allen-type, which could easily go off the rails without O’Connell’s astonishingly naturalistic approach.
Luke, his partner of four years, is sympathetically played by Kevin Cristaldi. Luke has compartmentalized his religion from the love he bears for Adam. He failed to tell his father of their relationship, which ultimately leads to a dramatic confrontation.
Katherine Michelle Tanner is also notable in her role as the supportive best friend and employer, Holly. Kenajuan Bentley does what he can with the rather thankless part of closet homosexual who fails to accept his own reality.
Judith Hawking plays Arlene, an eccentric Southern woman, who’s been divorced from Luke’s father for more than 20 years. The father, aptly named Butch, is played with effective machismo by Philip Clark.
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