Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall, currently onstage at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, refers to a moment that’s just beyond reach — and never to be attained. It’s when Luke (Ryan Wesley Gilreath), a young gay man, promises to come out to his conservative family, perhaps allowing for greater peace and balance in his relationship with Adam (Michael G. Bath), his older partner, an agnostic hypochondriac who shares neither Luke’s devout Christianity nor his easy ability to justify inherent contradictions between his faith and behavior.
The play, a 2010 Tony Award nominee, is a thoughtful drama with an overlay of humor. A tragic accident in the play’s first moment throws Luke and Adam’s relationship into turmoil. We meet others in awkward conversation in a cheerless hospital waiting room — a sympathetic friend Holly (Annie Fitzpatrick), an aloof, uptight friend Brandon (Charlie Clark), Luke’s anxiously chatty mother Arlene (Regina Pugh) and her ex-husband Butch (Bruce Cromer), whose homophobic prejudices are quickly evident.
Next Fall travels between the hospital and past scenes of the couple’s meeting and evolving relationship, played on a singular, adaptable set (Brian c.
Mehring) that quickly shifts from institutional to apartment to outdoor scenes using projections and quick rearrangement of furniture. Meyers excellently shapes the story with her strong cast and Nauffts’ natural, conversational and often witty script.
If you’ve seen these actors before (they’re regulars at ETC and elsewhere), you’ll be surprised. Under Meyers’ steady hand they are doing unexpected work, especially Cromer as an intolerant man, Pugh as a nervous, regretful woman and Clark as a humorless fellow who never drops his guard.
The play touches on faith and belief, to be sure, but also commitment, relationships, happiness and love without passing judgment or pushing a particular perspective. See this profoundly human show and you’ll be both moved and perplexed.
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