This review contains possible spoilers.
Written by Geoffrey Nauffts, Next Fall is a sensitive and understated, yet powerful drama, which refuses to pull any punches.
In May, 2009, his work premiered Off-Broadway at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre. The following February, Next Fall transferred to the Helen Hayes Theatre. Whilst on Broadway, the show ran for a total of 158 performances. Earning raves from New York City’s leading theatre critics, Nauffts’ work picked up Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Tony Awards nominations, all for Best Original New Play.
Later, a U.K. version was staged at London’s Southwark Playhouse. That strictly-limited season played from September until October, 2014.
Covering a four-year period in the tender partnership between Adam (Darrin Redgate) and Luke (Mark Davis), structurally, this episodic memory piece unfolds using several intertwining time frames. Told in two gripping fifty – minute acts, their story together explores such highly-personal themes as coming out (or not), mid-life crises, generational barriers, relationship conflicts, religious differences, family tensions, and coping with loss.
Balancing these serious topics, it should be noted that Next Fall, however, does have its fair share of whip-smart, observational comedy, too. Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Falsettos (by James Lapine and William Finn), and Straight (by Scott Elmegreen and Luke Fornarola), have used a similar tactic, equally well.
Very much a chamber experience, the use of focused, conversational dialogue is key to each character and our grasp of them. Holly (Sharon Davis), Adam’s best friend and employer, is never afraid to speak her mind, or indeed, go into bat for him. Likewise, Luke’s conservative Southern Baptist parents, Arlene (Kaarin Fairfax) and Butch (Paul Robertson), use Christian faith as their measuring stick. Meanwhile, Luke’s closeted ex-lover, Brandon (James Biasetto), is silently struggling with his own demons.
Whether viewers agree with some of the characters’ personal views or not, excellent direction (from Peter Blackburn) makes each role realistically convincing. Under his careful tutelage, the actors share legitimate chemistry with one another, and perform very much in the moment.
Furthermore, thanks to this talented group’s total commitment to the journey being taken, they could easily be people we know. In their capable hands, Next Fall is a solid and important, human story, well worth checking out.
Staging in Chapel off Chapel’s Loft auditorium, takes full advantage of its inherent intimacy, drawing audiences directly into the action on stage. Spare yet precise set design (by James Lew) also highlights the different time strands. Lew, it should be noted, was responsible for costume design; his clothing choices were an asset to character definition, too.
Using a highly-effective, draw curtain divide, a hospital waiting-room consisting of plastic chairs, sit in front of the sheet, and the couple’s loft apartment is positioned behind it. Thanks to excellent stage management from Jacinta Anderson, smooth transitions between scenes detail this difference.
Clare Healy’s musical composition, combined with Linton Wilkinson’s clean sound design, neatly underscore Next Fall’s tidy script, both adding to the overall atmosphere. Sharp and considered lighting design by Megz Evans, visually emphasises and support key moments in the narrative.
Given that Australia (and the world at large) is in tremendous flux concerning LGBTQI rights, plays of this caliber, are crucial to building positive political awareness and strengthening the social landscape, more than ever. Next Fall plays at Chapel off Chapel until July 30.