No one chooses whom they fall in love with, and once they’ve fallen, it doesn’t mean perfect understanding of the object of their affections. That’s certainly the case with Luke and Adam, the couple at the center of Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre. They’re both gay, but they’re very different personalities, with very different ideas about faith and religion.
That’s a clash well demonstrated in the play, which starts off with a really big crashing sound offstage. We find out soon enough what has just happened, as we see several characters interacting in a hospital waiting room. Luke (Kevin Cristaldi) has been hit by a car, and as his life hangs in the balance, we go back and forth in time to different stages of his relationship with Adam (Jason O’Connell). They meet cute, as cater-waiter but budding actor Luke chats up the nervous, older Adam, a frustrated, hypochondriac would-be writer working at a candle shop. We may not be quite certain what Luke sees in Adam at first, but over time we grow to accept their feelings for one another.
The conflict that sparks Nauffts’ interest? Luke is a Christian, a believer in God who sees being gay as sinning but also believes he’ll go to his own version of paradise anyway. And he wants Adam, an atheist, to be there with him—which means Adam would have to make a leap of faith he just can’t negotiate. Add to this that Luke has never told his divorced parents—the formerly hard-partying Arlene (Judith Hawking) and the appropriately named Butch (Phillip Clark), both Bible-thumping Southern conservatives—about his sexual orientation, and the tension escalates.
Nauffts rounds out his roster of characters with self-proclaimed “fag hag” Holly (Katherine Michelle Tanner), a sympathetic and helpful type, and Brandon (Kenajuan Bentley), a seemingly buttoned-down businessman whose own motivations and relationship with Luke remain something of a secret until late in the play. There’s lots of humor here despite the traumatic situation, and the cast under the direction of Kate Alexander successfully runs the gamut of emotions they’re called upon for.
It took me a while to really believe in and care about the characters, though, which may be partly due to a certain New York-centric atmosphere or attitude. There may also be a feeling at times that these people are being manipulated by the playwright to ensure he presents his issue thoroughly.
By the end of the evening, though, I was won over by the genuine heart of the play and by watching the characters cope with love and loss. Next Fall continues through March 31; call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.