- Tom Hurst
Through Oct. 16
Mad Cow Theatre
The perpetrators of reality TV spew out more and more shows filled with so-called “normal” people mired in the mediocrity of their intellectually impoverished lives. Movies continue to showcase the so-called “beautiful” people performing ever more violent and improbable stunts. In the face of this one remembers to be thankful for live theater, where, from time to time, one can actually witness recognizable, sympathetic and very human characters simply trying to navigate the intricacies of their daily lives, and perhaps asking some of the big and important questions of one another while doing so – questions about faith, love, politics, family or friendship, for example.
Next Fall, a play by Geoffrey Nauffts, now playing at the Mad Cow Theatre under the direction of Eric Zivot, offers the theatergoer just such an opportunity by presenting six well-defined and interesting people who must come to grips with many of those questions after one of them is hit by a passing automobile and subsequently faces death in a New York hospital. The well-constructed, witty and ultimately poignant play moves back and forth in time in the lives of this sextet, but focuses mainly on the relationship between a young gay man, Luke (Christopher McIntyre), who is a devout Christian, and his older significant other, Adam (Thomas Ouellette), a committed nonbeliever who can’t quite reconcile his lover’s deep religious feelings with the life they are trying to build together.
When all six characters gather at the hospital awaiting news of accident victim Luke’s condition, Adam must also contend with Brandon (Stephen Lima), Luke’s previous boyfriend; Luke’s mother, Arlene (Peg O’Keef), a former wild child of the ’60s; and Arlene’s ex-husband and Luke’s father, Butch (Stephan Jones), a born-again Christian and staunch homophobe. Helping to keep Adam grounded throughout is his friend Holly (Elizabeth Dean), a half-Jewish, half-Catholic new-ager, who also happens to be both Luke’s and Adam’s boss.
What helps make Next Fall such an appealing work is the ease with which playwright Nauffts weaves his evocative and meaningful dialogue into the very ordinary and familiar occurrences of his characters’ lives – an after-work dinner party, moving into a new apartment, packing for a trip back home. When their situations become more extreme, as they do in the hospital scenes, Nauffts’ characters continue to act and respond with a logical consistency, albeit at a higher emotional level. Thus, one gets the sense that these fictitious beings are authentic, three-dimensional, knowable people.
While all six actors give strong, believable performances, Ouellette provides the show’s gravitational center. His Adam is a smart, funny and honest person who struggles not with the pointless ephemera of existence, like the reality-TV people, nor with the absurdities of superpowers or alien invasions, like the movie stars do, but rather with the important issues that the rest of us face all the time, the most important of which continues to be: What compromises must we make in order to truly love others without losing ourselves in the bargain?