The Wiz What Is

  February 3, 2012

KC Stage

Who Do Ya’ Love?

by Greg Boyle

Would you be able to have a long-term relationship with someone whose beliefs were diametrically opposite of yours? That’s the central question in the premiere presentation of Next Fall, by Geoffrey Nauffts, at the Unicorn Theatre.  Though recently written, Next Fall is one of the most produced plays in the nation this season. Full of charmingly light and comic moments, still, this play challenges viewers to think, and when you leave the theatre, you take the play with you.

Next Fall examines how various kinds of fear interface and interfere with love. Erotic love, self-love, familial love, God love — none is exempt from the claws of doubt-filled fear. Here, the sexual love is complicated because it is the love between two men. The familial love is complicated because the family knows nothing of the sexual orientation of Luke, around whom the story revolves; and the love of God complicates the relationship between Luke and his partner Adam.

The fears are the standard ones that consume us daily: fear of success, failure, loss, and the big one, death, which is the greatest fear of all. That is the one on the minds of all the characters as they gather in a hospital waiting room.

Next Fall is not your standard play about acceptance of homosexuality. Gay relationships constitute more of a smoke screen that the author uses to distract us and lure us into even deeper waters. Next Fall is really about how ideas and beliefs can separate us, regardless of who we are, in spite of our best intentions, and how fear can ruin every good thing.

Director Jeff Church has elicited fine performances across the board. All of the interactions onstage feel natural and non-theatrical.

Luke and Adam, played by Rusty Sneary and Charles Fugate, are the central characters in the play. The pair gives us a genuine sense of a loving couple forced to deal with the things that divide them, and the fears that underlie the friction. There is one sequence between the two that holds a silence so exquisitely long the audience begins to ache in harmony with the characters’ pain.

Arlene, as played by Merle Moores, is a high-maintenance type — a gaping wound only recently healed over. Butch is a bible-quoting man of narrow views, but Mark Robbins plays him very simply, without pomposity.

Holly, played very sweetly by Heidi Van, is a warm earth mother trying to coddle others while continually searching for her own answers.

The part of Brandon is very strangely written. He comes off as a mystery man. Virtually omnipresent in the first act, everyone on stage seems to know him, yet the audience gets no clue as to how he fits in until the second act. In fact, at intermission, his name was on everyone’s lips. As a theatrical gimmick, it was set up for a big dramatic payoff.  However, when we finally hear Brandon’s story, it is anticlimactic. All we get is a small tidbit of insight about Luke, making for the only unsatisfying scene in the show. However, the dissatisfaction has nothing to do with performance. From the moment the lights come up, Doogin Brown gives us a fully-realized, coherent Brandon, who is wound so tight that you can see his tension just by the way he sits.

Next Fall is the kind of show that will play differently on the coasts than in between. New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco audiences will not react to same parts of the piece that we will here in the Bible belt. While coastal audiences might take homosexual rights issues for granted and smirk at talk of religious devotion, the Midwest is still learning how to broaden community views enough to include gay pride. (And we take our religion seriously around here.)

This production adds yet another feather to the already heavily feathered cap of the Unicorn. That’s because producing thought-provoking plays is what the Unicorn has always been about, as its record of being the spawning ground for numerous Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning plays indicates.

Next Fall runs at the Unicorn Theatre until Feb. 12. For tickets, call the box office at 816-531-7529, ext. 10, or go online to www.UnicornTheatre.org, or in person at the theatre, located at 3828 Main St., Kansas City.

Greg Boyle can be contacted at gbboyle@kc.rr.com.