By Iride Aparicio
Photos Courtesy: S.J. REP
NEXT FALL’s CAST
SAN JOSE, CA--In “NEXT FALL,” winner of the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner award for best new American play, and recipient of various nominations including the 2010 Tony for best play, playwright GEOFFREY NAUFFTS wrote a provocative work that, to have the desired impact in the audience, demands rewriting because as written, the play is not strong enough to move us.
One of the reasons is that the “conflict” in NAUFFTS ‘ NEXT FALL is not focused. In their dialogue, the two principal characters: Adam (DANNY SCHEIE) and Luke (ADAM SHONKWILER) philosophize about so many issues in the fist act, that the play’s focus blurs.
If we analize the play, its problem is that Luke, one of the two main characters, is gay, in love with Adam and they live together. While these facts will be all right for another gay man, they are not for Luke, because he considers his way of life “wrong” because, according to his Christian religion, his way of life is considered sinful. Feeling a sinner, Luke is unable to enjoy intimacy with Adam. In fact, he feels so guilty about it, that he prays after sex, which drives his agnostic partner crazy.
The other issue bothering Luke is shame: He refuses to let his parents know that he is gay and that he lives in his apartment with another man, so, when his father visits, he goes around his apartment hiding the evidence of his sexual preference,
So while there is “conflict’ in NEXT FALL between the two principal characters: Luke (SHNKWILER) who was raised a Christian by a Church-going mother who carries the bible wherever she goes, and Adam (SCHEIE) who does not believe in God, the real “conflict” in this play is the inner “conflict” of Luke against himself. He loves Adam, but he considers his love sinful. He knows he is gay, but, according to the teachings of his church, that is another sin, so Luke reasons that if his love for Adam was not sinful, he would not feel so guilty after sex, but because he believes is sinful, he need to be forgiven for his sin and that's the reason hen prays after sex. This is the "real “conflict” in this play is the conflict of Luke’s clash against what the Bible taught him is wrong, what his family taught him is wrong, and what his nature tells him is “right for him. Luke’s internal conflict in this play is so strong, that it would have required to be addressed in a more dramatic way.
Maybe in the first act, which is weak, instead of the aimless dialogue between Luke (SHONKWILER) and Adam ( SCHEIE) going in all directions, the audience needed to see Luke, alone, confronting his internal struggle. Asking himself if what he is doing is “right” to him or “wrong.” to him. Finding out, would give him the peace of mind he wants.
A rewrite of his dialogue in the first act, would have given Luke (SHONKWILER) a chance to show the audience his inner conflict, which in the play, as is written now, does not seem to be too important to him. More convincing in the play is the dialogue of SCHEIE, who sticks to the fact that he is not religious and acccept it. It is only at the end, when he shows doubts, in his beliefs that his doubts cause him to melts down.
A better dialogue for Brandon (RYAN TASKER) would have given this character tridimensionality. Perhaps even a “flashback” showing the audience a bit of his relationship with Luke, to help them understand his character better that they do now.
As Luke’s father, JAMES CARPENTER acted well, but again, his dialogue did not allow the audience to learn how he felt after visiting his son’s apartment and talking with his partner. As Arlene RACHEL HARKER played her role as a Christian mother well, hanging to her bible until the end. As Holly, LINDSEY GATES acted natural.
L-r DANNY SCHEIE as Adam and ADAM SHONKWILER as Duke
Another problem the play has is in its structure. NAUFFTS, who is also a scriptwriter for film and television, uses “flashbacks” to tell the story, thus moving the action constantly back and forth from present to past. Because these “Flashbacks” are not always well defined, the thread of the story gets confusing to the audience.
Because of its subject matter, NEXT FALL is an adult play. On the Saturday after opening night, when we reviewed it, some scenes in the play were called “too graphic” by people in the audience, yet everybody agreed that the acting of all the actors under the direction of KIRSTEN BRANDT was excellent and that the graphic scenes were presented in good taste.