Playwright Geoffrey Naufft’s Next Fall, showing at in Bethesda, tells a story that is most topical, as states including Maryland duke it out on the issue of marriage equality.
Two men fall in love, they live a life together, and then that life is interrupted by tragedy. A wildly dysfunctional family enters the picture and characters and theater-goers alike start reflecting on the big questions.
The play, directed by Mark Ramont, moves seamlessly between a hospital waiting room and the back-story of two lovers—Luke (Chris Dinolfo), and Adam (Tom Story). Luke is an open-hearted, lively man, in contrast to Adam, a neurotic who sometimes comes off as just plain whiney. Nonetheless, they are a match.
Unlike Adam, Luke is still far in the closet from his family, particularly his father. We’re shown this by the very literal use of the metaphor, as Luke frantically prepares his and Adam’s apartment for a surprise visit from the father, tossing his Truman Capote bio and Cher coffee table book in a box and grabbing handfuls of pictures of he and Adam and stuffing them in the closet.
A series of cheap laughs, funny nonetheless. The couple squabbles about this as well as Luke’s religious faith and Adam’s atheism, which increasingly drives a wedge between them.
When Adam goes out of town, Luke is struck by a taxi. When Adam returns, he is wildly frustrated by hospital "family-only" policy in his attempts to see his lover, coupled with Luke's family not seeing—or not acknowledging—who he is to Luke.
Holly, played by Dawn Ursula, is a good friend to both Luke and Adam. Playing sort of a buffer between the two men when things get difficult between them, as well as a buffer at the hospital between various family members and between Luke's family and Adam, she is funny and wise, warm but not treacley.
Her nuanced performance makes you wish there was more of her story in the play.
Not so nuanced are Luke’s parents. His convincingly ditzy mother, Arlene, is played by Kathryn Kelley. She and Luke’s father, long divorced, alternately go at it and attempt to comfort each other in the waiting room.
Kevin Cutts plays the gruff macho father, Butch, homophobic and passive-aggressive.
A sixth character, Brandon, played by Alexander Strain, is a bit of a mystery for most of the play. His story comes to light briefly and quite late, as though an afterthought attempt to add another note of melodrama.
While sometimes it feels like Next Fall is milking absolutely every stereotype going for both humor and pathos, the timely story is worth watching, and its lessons worth learning.
Next Fall is playing through Feb. 26 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda (240-644-1100, roundhousetheatre.org). Ticket prices range from $10 to $61. Round House recommends the show for ages 15 and above due to strong language and mature themes.