You can’t get more intimate theater than at Port City Playhouse with their production of Next Fall. The very personal story of a tragic relationship is brought to life up close and personal and uses every inch at the Lab at Convergence where the group makes its home in Alexandria.
Written by Geoffrey Nauffts and originally performed Off-Broadway in 2009, Next Fall relates the story of the relationship between Adam and Luke and highlights the differences they have; one being a devout Christian and the other an atheist.
Opening with the sound of a car crash, a portent for the unraveling of the tale of an accidental relationship, we know something bad has happened but, like any good story, we want to know how these characters got there.
The playwright uses laugh-out-loud humor that grabs you from the beginning. We quickly get to know the characters involved in issues that flow easily from one to the next. From the obvious religious conflict to the more standard gay relationship hurdles, i.e. how to tell the family, you cannot help but be drawn into this compelling combination of comedy and tragedy. When you leave the theater, you will feel as if you lived it.
Director Rob Batarla, who also designed the Set, Sound, and Computer Projections, weaves the tale with a minimalist set and a backdrop projection that includes the audience in the time and place so you always know when and where the action is happening. Costume Designer Ceci Albert provided the period-appropriate costumes.
Using contemporary music of the time to evoke recent history, it begins to look like an audio-video family album replete with snapshots of the couple in happy times. The thing is, family albums don’t tell the whole story. Batarla’s easy style allows the characters to build and the plot to play out in a natural way even with the structure of the play built on a combination of flashbacks and present time.
Oftentimes in theater, you might get a director skilled at presentation OR developing characters but this director is clearly skilled at both, with a talented cast that brings these characters to life (and death),
Actor Richard Isaacs bursts onto the stage, portraying Adam as a lovable neurotic, hypochondriac atheist full of questions about everything and suffering a mid-life crisis. With all that on his plate, he balances all these quirks in a very wise-cracking, vulnerable and ultimately touching manner. No stranger to local theater, Mr. Isaacs is able to exercise his craft, hold our attention and run the gamut of hilarity and emotion. His relationship with Luke, tenderly portrayed by newcomer Frederick Dechow), is adversarial, caring ,and devoted; just like the real thing.
A familiar face at Port City, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as Arlene is in the zone as Luke’s not-so-motherly mother. With some of the funniest lines in the show and a southern accent that drips with authenticity, you think she is comic relief until the second act begins to unfold.
Her ex-husband Butch is the apotheosis of the conservative father in denial about his son and is played stoically by Cal Whitehurst.
The 6-person cast is rounded out by Suzanne Martin as the couple’s best friend and admitted fruit fly. As a true friend to both, Ms. Martin is sincere, warm and still has dimensions of her own and Andy De who plays Brandon with a deadpan that speaks volumes.
Although it has been a difficult season weather-wise, the cast looks well-rehearsed and everyone’s timing is impeccable.
Kudos all around to an efficient production that even has the crew dressed in hospital scrubs, a technical crew that didn’t miss a sound or light cue, and a masterful choice of material that engages the audience in a profound way. Don’t miss it!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one intermission.