|(L to R): Colin Hanlon as Luke and Jeffrey Kuhn as Adam. © Photo by Keith Jochim|
What: Next Fall
Where: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
When: October 27 through November 14, 2010
Right now, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is featuring two plays in which questions of faith are paramount. The one on the main stage in Webster Groves – High – has the big star. But the one at the Grandel Theatre – Geoffrey Nauffts's funny, sad, and insightful Next Fall – has a stellar script and a uniformly fine cast to boot.
At the core of Next Fall is the five-year relationship between Luke, a thirtyish actor on the way up, and Adam, a fortyish candle salesman-turned-teacher who isn't sure which way he's going. Luke is a committed Christian who is out to everyone except his fundamentalist dad, Butch. Adam is a dedicated skeptic who is running out of patience with Luke's theology. When an accident sends Luke into a coma, his family and friends are forced to deal with their conflicting beliefs and feelings about Luke and each other.
A lesser playwright might turn this material into predictable soap opera or use it to score easy political points. Mr. Nauffts, however, avoids predictability at every turn. Luke's parents, the ideologically rigid Butch and motor-mouthed Arlene, for example, could have been one-dimensional cartoons; instead they are fully realized characters – flawed but completely believable. So, too, are Adam's ex-boss and friend Holly and Luke's fellow believer Brandon.
My wife commented that Next Fall presents a story that doesn't end with the curtain. The characters and their relationships are so credible that we found ourselves compelled to speculate what might happen next. Mr. Nauffts's script provides a resolution, but no pat answers.
It's impossible to heap too much praise on this consistently brilliant cast, but I'll give it a shot. Jeffrey Kuhn imbues Adam with a kinetic energy that mirrors the character's unsettled emotional state, making the contrast with Colin Hanlon's steady and rock-solid Luke that much more effective. Marnye Young's Holly is warm and funny, while Ben Nordstrom's Brandon is a study in the use of stillness as a way to reveal character. Susan Greenhill's Arlene is hilarious without ever descending into "Southern gal" cliché and Keith Jochim brings out the depths in Butch's persona that make him more than a standard-issue bigot.
Together, they constitute a flawless, perfectly timed ensemble. How much of that can be attributed their individual talent and how much to Seth Gordon's direction is anybody's guess, but there's no gainsaying the emotional impact of the final product. This is an evening that mixes laughter, tears, and thought-provoking dialog in an irresistible brew that seems far shorter than its nearly two and one-half hour running time.
Like so many recent plays, Next Fall seems to want to be a movie when it grows up, unfolding in a large number of small scenes, each of which requires a complete set change. Happily, Brian Sidney Bembridge has created a scenic design that transforms easily and quickly, aided by John Wylie's effective lighting and Rusty Wandall's evocative sound. Lou Bird's costumes are fine as well, nicely mirroring the internal lives of their characters.
If all of this leaves you with the impression that Next Fall is a first-rate presentation of script that fully deserved its 2009 Tony nomination then, to quote Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, this case is closed. Next Fall is this fall's hot ticket. For more information you may call 314-968-4925.