The reviews are in for “Next Fall”

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Garry Geiken as Adam and Neal Skoy as Luke in “Next Fall” at the Jungle Theater

All photos by Michal Daniel

Next Fall tells the story of a gay couple divided by faith. Adam is an atheist and out, Luke is Christian and closeted. When Luke is injured critically in an accident, Adam and his family gather at the hospital. According to The Jungle Theater “NEXT FALL takes a funny and provocative look at what it means to “believe”, and what it may cost us not to.”

Thinking about seeing the show? Check out these varying reviews from Twin Cities theater critics… then make up your own mind.

From Janet Preus at HowWasTheShow.com:

Just letting the underlying tension inherent in this set-up play out would be enough dramatic action for one play, but instead the playwright seemed compelled to cover everything of significance since Adam and Luke first met–in the style of a TV sitcom: set up the joke, deliver the laugh line, repeat a few times and go to a commercial (in this case, a scene change). Unfortunately, this style kept the characters from truly engaging with each other until well into the play–the second act, in fact—as if the story wanted to go there but couldn’t because they had to play the laughs…

…This production, however, has some powerfully redeeming qualities. Yoakam’s portrayal of Butch would be at the top of the list. Butch’s staunch denial of what he must know about his son, and the stoic love that finally overpowers him at the end, fires this play from beginning to end. This is a character that we can truly care about. At the final, terrible and enormously satisfying moment, Geiken’s Adam comes through for Butch, but strangely he still hangs on to that detached persona…

…Pistner created a charming Arlene out of the character’s serious foibles. The scene in the hospital “chapel” as she comes to terms with the play’s final reality is truly beautiful, though I can’t imagine any mother leaving her child’s side at that moment. And one couldn’t help but be taken with Skoy’s affable Luke; who wouldn’t care about such a sweet and likeable guy?

Which is why, I think, the play has appeal. We really do care about what happens to this young man, and because he loves the other characters, we come to care about them, too.

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Sasha Andreev as Brandon, Garry Geiken as Adam and Andrea Leap as Holly in The Jungle Theater production of “Next Fall”

From Rob Hubbard at Pioneer Press:

…This comedy of ideas doesn’t dwell in heady high-concept philosophical arguments. Its characters are flawed individuals who fall into believable discussions about the place of faith and love in their lives. The framing device is a hospital waiting room vigil, where Luke is comatose after being hit by a car. His parents, partner and friends will soon confront the “next of kin” conflicts that arise in places where gay relationships aren’t recognized. But the story plays out primarily in flashback, as we watch Adam and Luke meet, fall in love, move in together and periodically wrestle with their religious differences.

Thanks to convincing portrayals by Garry Geiken and Neal Skoy, this odd couple proves engaging company, tossing clever bon mots at one another and dealing with situations such as an unexpected visit from Luke’s fundamentalist father (which inspires a rapid-fire “de-gaying” of their apartment).

In a role that could have been a caricature, Stephen Yoakam instead makes the father a complex man who may or may not understand his son’s sexual identity. Meanwhile, Luke’s mother seems designed to be the chief source of comic relief, but Maggie Bearmon Pistner lends this southern eccentric enough vulnerability and sadness to invite our sympathy.

The play has some shortcomings that director Joel Sass and the cast can’t quite transcend — there are avoidance issues not only in the characters, but also seemingly the playwright — and the performances of Andrea Leap and Sasha Andreev don’t gibe well with the naturalism of the other four, she too over the top, he too icy. But it’s an engaging, discussion-provoking play that gives you plenty for your head and might break your heart.

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Garry Geiken as Adam and Maggie Bearmon Pistner as Arlene in The Jungle Theater production of Next Fall

From Ed Huyck at City Pages:

…Sometimes the script does let them down–using a closet packed with the relationship’s debris while Luke tries to “de-gay” the apartment in advance of his father’s visit is just a bit too on point–but the performers work through these hitches and give us a real relationship.

Nauffts is more successful exploring the anxiety and grief felt by all the characters as they wait by Luke’s side for a sign of recovery or, as it becomes clearer throughout the play, for the end. The stress on the other five characters is obvious, and how they react to it helps to give them extra depth. Interestingly, all of them are able to call on some faith, lapsed or not, to aid them–except for Adam, who is left alone in his pure skepticism.

The balance of the cast puts in solid performances, especially Stephen Yoakam as patriarch Butch, who knows much more about his son’s “lifestyle” than he is letting on. The simmering conflict between him and Adam provides the strongest undercurrent and also gives us the evening’s most surprising and touching moment.

The script moves with great energy and efficiency–it’s much like a situation comedy, without the happy ending–and director Joel Sass never lets that wane, be it in the comedic set pieces, the fight, or the long night waiting for the final news.

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Garry Geiken as Adam and Neal Skoy as Luke in “Next Fall” at the Jungle Theater

From Graydon Royce, at Star Tribune:

…Nauffts’ play and Sass’ production share a glib facility. Neil Skoy’s bright and cheery Luke explains to Adam that he’s a fundamentalist Christian, waiting for the Rapture. He prays for forgiveness after they have sex, explaining that he’s just like any other Christian asking for absolution after a lusty day of sinning. What’s more, Luke begs Adam to accept Jesus so they will live together in eternity.

Leaving aside Nauffts’ naive theology, this gambit exists not to resolve itself but as a straw man preventing Luke from telling Butch about Adam.

Skoy, a fine young actor, never convinces us that Luke really believes in his fundamentalist ideology. Nauffts has shorted both religion and Luke’s sexual identity with this implausibility. This is a guy who should be on an analyst’s couch.

Nauffts pulls punches whenever such complexity arises, so that his characters can pose for more one-liners. Garry Geiken’s Adam is lightweight, lacking droll insight or believable likability. Stephen Yoakam does better with the straightforward Butch. Sasha Andreev plays a self-loathing gay friend with white-knuckled gravitas. Maggie Bearmon Pistner has just the right affect for Luke’s mother, Arlene, but her work is aware of itself. Andrea Leap’s Holly — a friend of Adam’s and Luke’s — is all gesture and mugs.

Sass’ production has the lacquer of small-screen cinema, again perhaps appropriately, but this seems to play right into Nauffts’ trap. There has to be a better way.

“Next Fall” runs through May 22 at the Jungle Theater. Have you seen the show? If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.

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