Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall is what dramatic theatre should be. Nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play in 2010, Nauffts’ play is provocative, heartfelt, witty, and genuine, and thanks to a solid cast and strong direction, PURE Theatre’s production of Next Fall is a highlight of Piccolo Spoleto.
Set in a hospital waiting room, Next Fall is an examination of faith in a time of crisis. The warm, lovable actor and candle salesman, Luke (Brannen Daugherty) is an unapologetic Christian. The cynical, neurotic amusing teacher and candle salesman, Adam (Michael Catangay) is an atheist. They fall in love anyway and move in together. Their differing religious beliefs are a constant source of contention. Adam tends to mock and resent Luke’s beliefs, and Luke wants Adam to share his. To complicate their relationship, Luke’s divorced parents, Butch (Evan Parry) and Arlene (Lucille Keller), don’t know that Luke is gay and that he and Adam are lovers. Luke vows to tell them next fall when his younger half-brother starts college. Next fall comes and goes.
When tragedy hits, Luke’s parents, Holly (Liz Coralli) and Brandon (Michael Smallwood), and Adam each confront their beliefs about life and the afterllife. Nauffts treats the subject with understanding and sensitivity and avoids the condescending platitudes about faith versus science, presenting opposing points of view and recognizing that some situations must be lived to be understood.
Nauffts presents a sincere understanding of both Luke’s faith and Adam’s skepticism. To add balance to the play’s dynamics, Holly, Luke’s and Adam’s employer, has moved away from her Roman Catholic upbringing, while Brandon, Luke’s former romantic interest, remains faithful to his Christian beliefs.
Coralli and Smallwood both project just the right tone in their roles as voices of moderation and support, while Keller gently delivers a quirky and friendly performance of a woman who entertains with stories and hides a deep sense of shame. Parry is also convincing as the proud Butch, holding steadfast as the strong patriarch desperately struggling to accept his son's homosexuality.
Nauffts weaves humor throughout the play, thanks in part to Adam, a funny atheist and hypochondriac. The playwright also taps into the problems of modern life and tackles the tough issues without resorting to cliché, knee-jerk arguments.
Under Sharon Graci’s direction, Nauffts’ characters are real, multidimensional people. With spot-on casting, every cast member is sure-footed and rooted in his or her character, particularly Catangay, whose Adam is the most complex and intriguing, but not the most likable.
Jennifer Timms’ soundtrack significantly contributes to the production’s mood and moves the action along from scene to scene. Some technical aspects need polishing — imbalanced lighting and awkward choreography in the scene changes — but that is not to distract from the play’s overall impact. PURE’s Next Fall elicits a wide range of emotions, a sure sign of a stellar production.