"Coming Home": this is the theme PURE Theatre has chosen for its ninth season, in celebration of the company's move into their new performance space at 477 King Street. The first play of the season, Time Stands Still, explored this rich theme through the story of two war journalists struggling to make a life together away from the grand stage of global tragedy. It was an excellent season opener, provocative and moving.
It is their second production, however, that truly opens up that idea of coming home and lets all poignancy, nostalgia, and inevitable loss that is wrapped up in it come sighing out. Next Fall, by Geoffrey Nauffts, centers on the five-year relationship of two men, Luke and Adam, and touches on questions of love, faith, parenting, and family, among others. But the main focus, and the seat of this story's heartbreak, is Adam's continual struggle with fear and doubt that darkens his relationship with Luke.
As PURE co-founder and director Sharon Graci notes, Next Fall is a memory play in the tradition of Our Town — indeed, Thornton Wilder's production is itself a shadowy presence in this story, as it is where Adam first sees Luke, an aspiring actor, perform. The play opens in a hospital waiting room, where Luke's friends, parents, and eventually Adam, sit waiting for news of Luke, who has been hit by a car. The waiting room scenes, which take place at the back of the stage, are punctuated by scenes from the five years previous: the night Adam and Luke met, their first big fight, and more, leading up to the day before Luke's accident. Luke is an open soul, confident in loving Adam and a devout Christian; Adam, on the other hand, is plagued by doubts about everything from his own life and career to his relationship with Luke. Adam is an atheist, which makes religion a recurring issue for them; another is Luke's refusal to come out to his parents. As Luke and Adam's story unfolds, both in the hospital and in the past, we see these issues playing out in complicated and sometimes unexpected ways.
Despite a few stumbles over lines, especially in the first few minutes of the play, the cast was very strong and fully devoted to their characters. Katie Huard absolutely embodied the maternal, nurturing friend Holly, offering comfort with affectionate backrubs and doing her best to smooth things over between Adam and Luke's parents — even when she is, in fact, meddling. Michael Catangray as the curmudgeonly, doubt-riddled Adam threw out unfeeling remarks at Luke with a frankness that made the quiet audience gasp, then melted into a laughing, affectionate boyfriend with an ease that revealed some of what we are not privy to in this play: Luke's own struggles to love this incredibly difficult man. Brannen Daugherty's Luke is a joyful, light-hearted presence, and Daugherty manages to balance Luke's natural generosity with the faint, and to Adam, maddening, self-righteousness that religion so often bestows on those who are convinced that they know the truth.
One of this production's greatest strengths is that though Christianity pops up fairly frequently — Luke does his best to get Adam to believe, so that they will be in heaven together, and a Bible makes several appearances — PURE sees what lies beyond, transcending the restrictions of religion, and even spirituality. Next Fall's characters are in search of love, peace — of home. Luke describes his moment of conversion with calm conviction as "coming home." Adam, for all his doubts, is finally able to find that moment in his love for Luke. Whatever home may look like, it feels the same for all of us. Bravo to PURE for showing its audience so clearly the truth of that statement.