When tragedy strikes, the ruthless specter of “what if” looms heavy in the aftermath. Such is the case in the story of Next Fall. When young aspiring New York actor Luke (James Wolk) is injured in a freak car accident, his family and friend gather at the hospital to await word of his condition, bringing together a strained collection of personalities that tell the tale of the eclectic and complex relationships Luke was maintaining. In particular, Luke’s frantic partner Adam (Geoffrey Nauffts) must continue the charade of being a friend and roommate because Luke never came out to his parents.
Luke’s father Butch (Jeff Fahey) is a simple and inattentive man, deeply concerned about his son, but fairly insensitive to the people around him. Luke’s mom, Arlene (Lesley Ann Warren) floats about the hospital waiting room, in perpetual hostess mode, lest she sit still for one moment and let the gravity of the situation affect her. Luke’s long time friend Brandon (Ken Barnett) waits as well. Ever the diplomat, Bible-toting Brandon is the embodiment of restrained anxiety. Finally, Holly (Betsy Brandt), the friend and candle shop owner that brought the couple together also helps comfort the loved ones and mediate Adam’s need to be treated like for than Luke’s “friend”.
Throughout the night, flashbacks tell of the turning points in the couple’s life together. Adam and Luke’s meeting at an OA meeting where Luke is working with the caterer and Adam is a guest, possibly choking but definitely in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Self-deprecating, hypochondriac Adam and too adorable and good natured for words Luke are seemingly the perfect May-December pairing. In the years that follow, the couple grapples with religious differences, career anxiety and of course the elephant in every room they share, Luke’s still being closeted to this family. Now in the wake of tragedy, Adam has to decide if Luke coming out to his parents was as important as ever, or if it really never mattered at all.
Next Fall is an enjoyable work by Geoffrey Nauffts, who stars as Adam in his own play. The piece is a funny and tearful examination of identity; about how much we are in control of crafting it, and how much (and how often) we allow other people’s idea of us to dictate who we should be. Nauffts has cleverly pair two characters which exist on opposite sides of that spectrum. The result is a work that is surprisingly humorous and stealthily thoughtful. The piece is wonderful, heartfelt work that at times moved the audience to tears.
For my money, the night belonged to Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt. Her Holly is a wonderfully balanced girl of quirk, sensitivity and insightfulness. Quirk is so difficult to play truthful, but Brandt renders her character’s eccentricities with skill and earnest. Well Done. Nauffts delivers a truly Woody Allen-esque performs that digs deep and compliment James Wolk’s Luke perfectly. Although I question the necessity of the Brandon character dramatically, Ken Barnett proved to be both deft in his comic timing and sincere in all aspects of his performance.
Kudos to Wilson Chin as he continues his great work from the Broadway production, to the Los Angeles Geffen Playhouse production of Next Fall with the versatile and smart scenic design that allows the story to pivots from past to present with ease.
Next Fall is a fine balance of the dramatic and the lighthearted moments in the life of a new couple and the family ad friends around them. Confrontational without being preachy, this show is well worth the price of admission.
Next Fall directed by Sheryl Kaller is running now through December 4, 2011 at:
1010 Glendon Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90024
For more Information call: 310.208.4549
Photo Credit: Michael Lamont