by Matthew Falduto
Cedar Rapids – Theatre Cedar Rapids’ production of Geoffrey Nauffts‘ Next Fall is a powerfully funny show about life, death, religion and sexual politics. While the script itself has its weaknesses, the strong ensemble and careful direction make this a show worth seeing.
The central question in Next Fall is how a gay man can also be a Christian, when the religion teaches that homosexuality is a sin. The script does an excellent job of showing all aspects of this question, providing no concrete answers, but rather allowing the audience to reflect on the question long after the play is over. That’s commendable, but what was more rewarding for me as an audience member was being pulled into the wonderful love affair of the two central characters – Adam and Luke. We need to see more examples of this on stage (and in movies and books) and for that alone, Next Fall is to be recommended.
The play follows two timelines, beginning in a hospital waiting room as loved ones gather for a vigil for Luke, who was in a car accident, and then weaving back into the recent past to show us how the loving relationship of Adam and Luke was created. In general, the script is stronger in the past than the present, as the hospital scenes often feel awkward and less realistic. To the cast and director’s credit, the actors lift these weaker, overly dramatic moments with smart, well thought out performances.
Mathew James and John Miersen (who memorably portrayed Hamlet and Horatio respectively last year on the TCR stage) shine as Adam and Luke. Their chemistry is palpable and never for a minute did one doubt that these two men were destined for each other. To the play’s credit, it presents a very credible romantic relationship, with ups and downs, love and misunderstanding, and both James and Miersen are simply perfect in the roles.
The supporting actors are excellent as well. Traci Rezabek, in particular, stood out for comedic moments in the role of Arlene. Her first scene is full of wonderful comedy that shows off Rezabek’s comedic timing. She’s making quite a name for herself in the Cedar Rapids area after wonderful performances in Clybourne Park, Glass Menagerie and others in recent years.
Scott Humeston was always present as Butch, the father who willfully ignores the fact that his son is gay. Humeston understands how to play the subtlety of the character. In fact, a lesser actor might have focused on the over the top nature of Butch and missed throwing in the quiet glance or narrowing of the eyes or any of the many other subtle moments Humeston used to show the turmoil beneath the complex Butch. All of these subtle moments made Butch’s final emotional outburst that much more powerful.
Jessica Link, who portrays Holly, is strongest when playing opposite James in the flashback scenes. The two talented actors created a authentic rapport between their characters. One certainly believed they were best friends and knew each other inside and out. David S. Schneider’s low key portrayal of Brandon was also excellent, particularly in his most important scene with James. The scene, while slightly superfluous, did provide another perspective on the religious question that permeates the show. Schneider thoughtful portrayal added depth to his character’s point of view.
Angie Toomsen’s direction is mostly strong throughout. She certainly guided her actors to create well-rounded, realistic characters. However, one of the weaknesses of the script is that nearly every scene ends with a dramatic moment. Toomsen chose to emphasize this with a slow fade and the characters often looking searchingly at each other. A couple of times of that is one thing, but it felt like the device was used too often, undermining its effectiveness. A stronger choice might have been to de-emphasize the dramatic moments and let them speak for themselves.
The lighting design was simple and evocative, using color to to begin each scene with the effect of reminding us of the dramatic nature of the show. In contrast to the end of the scenes previously mentioned, this worked well. The costumes were well done as well. I liked the set design for the most part, which consisted of two platforms set at angles and slightly different heights. The only quibble I had is the walls for both were the same, and yet they were supposed to be two different locations – the hospital and the couple’s apartment – so that was slightly confusing in the beginning of the play.
I cannot end this review without a plea to Theatre Cedar Rapids’ Technical Director, Ben Lauer, or whomever made this decision. For the love of all that’s holy, please get rid of the body mics. Good actors do not need body mics unless they need to sing with an orchestra and I am confident that every actor in that cast would have been better without a mic. Actors are trained to project and the theatre is built to carry their voices throughout the building. Using mics just takes one out of the moment and prevents much of the subtlety actors can use in their performance. When I think of what the actors could have done without the artificiality created by the mics, I weep for the missed opportunity. I admit I’m being a bit over the top here, but hopefully my point is clear.
I strongly recommend this show on the strength of the actors’ performances alone. James and Miersen in particular have created characters whose humanity shines through in every single moment. Add to that the very serious issues that this play forces you to confront and you get a theatre experience that is not to be missed. Get your tickets to this show before they’re all gone.