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Re: “Next Fall

Review: Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffs, at Actors Bridge Ensemble Studio

Not Your Grandpa’s Kind of Gay Play

Playwright Robert Patrick, who in the course of his career has provokingly examined, among other things, a fairly wide swath of gay cultural terrain, once bristled at having his work categorized under the restrictive rubric of Gay Plays. “What is a gay play?” he asked. “A play that sleeps with plays of the same sex?” Virtually all writers aspire to some sort of universality, if only to get their point across, and hope their chosen specificities don’t garner them a limiting genre label.

Next Fall, the insistently theological piece by Geoffrey Nauffs currently at Actors Bridge Ensemble Studio, is, no matter how you slice it, a gay play. It serves up a chronologically jumbled stack of slices from a five-year-old relationship between Luke (Conway Preston) a twenty-something cater-waiter/aspiring actor and Adam (Chuck Long) a slightly older hypochondriacal candle salesman. Their central conflict is Luke’s unshakable belief in his Bible-based Christian faith and the inevitably fiery consequences of their persistent gay sinning. Not that Luke is a constant Savonarola; he calmly and tacitly keeps his fundamental certainties out of the bedroom except for the niggling practice of confessional prayers immediately after sex. This is too much for neurotic Adam who persistently picks at the unexamined contradictions between Luke’s behavior and beliefs. The historical vignettes show us, both comedically and dramatically, the amassing conflict that threatens their otherwise successful partnership.

This focus on ultimately cosmic questions frees Next Fall from the patronizing Gay Play prison. Avoiding the usual pitfalls of political manifestos and gratuitously exposed flesh, Nauffts, more effectively than at any time since Lanford Wilson gave us the quotidian yet cosmic problems of a gay couple in Fifth of July almost four decades ago, has managed to proffer a gay plot scenario which doesn’t wreak Godzilla-like carnage on its surroundings. Paradoxically, he does so by making Luke’s gayness a major problem for his father, the almost too appropriately named Butch (Phil Perry.) Gruffly old school, Butch doesn’t believe in natural selection or the reliability of an acting career, and while he may or may not surmise his son’s sexual orientation, he exudes self-denial in every sense of the word. There is even the barest insinuation (wisely not pursued by the author) that he might be suppressing similar feelings from his earlier years. Yet the play is also comfortable being about emotional neglect and fear of the unknown. These deeper themes are what truly trip the characters up. Each of them in their own way is in ostrich mode, avoiding the difficult realities, and the play’s action shows how this can be a soul-withering trap, far more destructive than frank communication.

A medical emergency lands Luke’s chosen and blood families together in the pressure-cooker confines of Beth Israel Hospital’s waiting room, where their unresolved conflicts reach crisis proportions. Beneath displays of alpha-male organizing and bullying, veteran character actor Phil Perry poignantly reveals glimpses of Butch’s real love and concern for his son. In her turn as Luke’s loving but self-centered, pill-popping mother, Denice Hicks again proves she is one of Nashville’s most inventive stage chameleons by bringing a manic yet deliciously appealing lilt to an otherwise pathetic character. Kara McLeland solidly portrays Luke’s solicitous and supportive best friend Holly, and Joe Blankenship, as internally conflicted friend Brandon, is especially fine at conveying finely nuanced reactions to the upheaval all around him. Chuck Long gives a strong performance as Adam, sincere but often doubtful of himself and others, and Conway Preston is ever alluring as Luke, the confident and determined glue that holds this micro-society together.

Director Richard Puerta has adeptly mounted this first fully staged production in the very intimate environs of Actors Bridge Ensemble’s Studio on Charlotte Avenue. Excellent performances on the inventive no-frills set should guarantee that audiences will continue to seek out this back-lot industrial space off a loading dock with a port-a-potty restroom. After all, tracking down eccentric venues is part of Nashville’s adventurous theatrical environment. Next Fall continues it’s run through April 6th.

-- Bob Fish

Posted by ixthvs on 03/24/2014 at 7:16 AM

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Re: “Rabbit Hole

The play is far more hilarious than the film, and the juxtaposition -- in fact, the simultaneity -- of hilarity and profound grief is the crux of this brilliant contemporary script. Out Front's production is some of the best work this consistently challenging year-old storefront operation has done. A perceptive and dedicated cast give sharply believable performances under George W. Manus, Jr.'s well-modulated direction. Here's a very satisfying evening of theatre well worth a trip to the 'Boro.

Posted by ixthvs on 07/15/2011 at 1:03 AM

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